As Morgan school officials prepare to ask voters to approve a voted leeway on June 25, 2013, they are busy scheduling meetings to inform the public.
District officials so far have planned at least 15 meetings to spread the word. The district plans another four parent information meetings at all local schools in the future.
Already, the district has met with HOLCIM officials, Morgan High School faculty members and the MHS Community Council. Meetings are scheduled with Morgan Middle School faculty members, the MMS Community Council, Morgan Elementary School faculty members, the MES Community Council, Mountain Green Elementary faculty members, the MGES Community Council, district classified staff members, Morgan Education Foundation, Morgan Empowered, the Morgan Lions Club, the Morgan County Council and the Morgan City Council.
Officials are putting still putting the finishing touches on presentation materials, which note Morgan’s unique position.
According to Census facts presented by the school board, compared to the state average Morgan has a younger population and larger households with a higher per capita income and graduation rate and lower poverty level. In addition, the Morgan School District has very little ethnic diversity, industries, businesses and second homes. Most land in the county is privately owned (96 percent) and most workers are employed outside the county (five out of six). The county has a limited tax base and business growth simply has not kept pace with residential growth.
Morgan is one of only seven districts in the state that does not have a voted leeway. The other 34 districts have approved a voted leeway to support their local public schools.
In the face of the longest recession in the nation’s history, the collapse of the housing market and soaring federal deficit, the school district is asking voters to view education as an investment in the future rather than an expense. On a more local state level, the economy slowed and population increased while state revenues and taxable values decreased.
In Morgan, homes and property are now worth less. Since 2008, taxable values have declined a total of $159 million and the county has suffered from $564,000 in uncollected taxes. Property taxes have increased to compensate for the decrease in taxable value.
Such losses are passed on to local school districts. In Morgan’s case, the district has lost $4.3 million in state instructional revenues since 2008. A bulk of the loss comes from a legislative mandate passing Social Security and retirement costs on to local school districts. Further complicating the matters, fuel, insurance and technology costs have climbed since 2008, resulting in an increase of $2.2 million directly related to instruction.
In short, revenues are not keeping up with student population growth and increasing costs.
Since 2008, district enrollment has increased by 347 new students. School enrollment will likely continue to climb as 55 homes are now under construction and Morgan County has issued 129 new building permits. Only 3.67 additional teachers have been hired since 2008 to cover the growth in enrollment. Support staff has decreased in that same time frame.
Superintendent Adams said the quality of Morgan schools is a primary reason that families move to the area. More than half of all graduating seniors receive a scholarship to fund their secondary education. Graduation rates are some of the highest in the state. At 22.2, Morgan ACT scores are higher than the state average of 20.7. Core testing scores exceed state averages in all categories.
But Morgan’s standing is beginning to crumble. Superintendent Adams said student performance and test scores are not keeping pace as other districts are catching up and surpassing the district. Elementary class sizes continue to grow and remediation services are lacking.
Since 2008, the district has cut a total of $445,000 to help deal with revenue decreases and cost increases. The district has charged travel fees for extracurricular, club and field trip travel; lowered administrator salaries; funded salaries with trust land funds; reduced 401K benefits; reduced contract, work and professional development days; discontinued extended-day kindergarten; restructured the transportation and IT department
School officials say the next cuts could impact academic programs and result in personnel reductions. Specifically, three classroom teachers, one administrator and the resource officer would be lost; student fees would be increased; elective and extra-curricular programs would be lost; class sizes would increase; remediation efforts would decrease; technology assistance would fall further behind; and test scores would likely lower.
Morgan schools have had to rely on outside help to hobble along. For example, the district has used more than $880,000 in federal stimulus money, gathered used equipment from government agencies and other districts, attended training supplied by other districts, relied on outside donations for classroom supplies, initiated a new rental policy, teamed with the United Way for volunteers, invited 10 foreign exchange students to Morgan High School and sold the old bus garage property.
Since a voted leeway has failed in Morgan in both 1999 and 2004, school officials are approaching this year’s attempt cautiously. They say this time, circumstances are a bit different as the nation suffers from the longest recession in history.