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We are not alone in struggling economic times

Article Date: 
10 August, 2012 (All day)

The Morgan School District is not alone in these struggling economic times.  Districts throughout the state and nation face challenging dilemmas as the fight to balance continually shrinking operating budgets continues.  
According to a recent report by the American Association of School Administrators, cuts stemming from early recessionary pressures were less likely to impact student achievement as districts had more flexibility,  access to rainy day funds, and were able to make initial cuts in areas that least directly impact student achievement, including altering thermostats and reducing staff travel.  As the recession and cuts continue, budget flexibility has been depleted, meaning that the cuts taking place now put immediate pressure on areas that directly impact student achievement, including personnel layoffs and reducing academic programs.
Following, in order, are the areas where districts have reported cuts have been made or will be made:
 
• Reducing professional development 69.4%
• Reducing academic programs (enrichment, after school, Intervention, etc.) 58.1%
• Personnel layoffs (non-instruction) 56.6%
• Increased class size 54.9%
• Personnel layoffs (instructional) 54.8%
• Deferring technology purchases 52.8%
• Deferring textbook purchases 38.0%
• Deferring maintenance 36.6%
• Eliminating summer school programs 34.6%
• Reducing course offerings 25.6%
• Reducing extra-curricular activities 25.6%
• Shift in funding for extra-curricular activities to Families/community/boosters 20.2%
• Cutting bus transportation routes/availability 13.6%
• Personnel furloughs 8.6%
• Closing/consolidating schools 4.4%
 
Morgan has employed a number of these options ranging from eliminating professional development days to increasing the fees and adding a travel fee to all extra-curricular programs. In speaking with a number of superintendents from across the state, they report taking similar actions over the past four years.
“I’ve told my Board we have enough in the rainy day fund to get us through one more year, but if the economy doesn’t change after that, we’re going to have to make even more serious and painful cuts,” remarked a neighboring superintendent this past Friday at state training.
In June, Business Administrator D’Lynn Poll and I, in writing, cautioned our Board that our rainy day funds were running dangerously low and that other action would be necessary to provide a contingency fund for the 2012-13 year in order to leave at least some balance for the 2013-14 school year.
The Morgan Board of Education has worked very hard the past four years balancing the budget while creating as little burden as possible on the taxpaying public.  Much of this was done by transferring funds from the Capital Budget (buildings) into the General Budget (personnel).  
These transfers were coupled with approximately $1,085,289 in cuts to programs and personnel.  In the upcoming school year cuts to date total $445,678.
In some ways the Morgan District is stifled in revenue areas uncommon to most other districts in the state.  Morgan is about 96 percent privately owned, meaning we get little if any federal land revenues.  We have the lowest combined total of free and reduced lunch students in the state, meaning we get little help from the government in this area.  We have one of the highest medium incomes of any county in the state, thus not qualifying for other funds.  We have very few businesses in the county and only a handful of second homes.  These properties are taxed at 100 percent of their assessed value.  This translates into limited revenue sources for the schools, county, city, and fire districts.
Families continue to move into the county in part due to our exceptional educational system.  Primary resident homes do not generate enough revenue to cover the students they bring with them.  These properties are taxed at 55 percent of their assessed value.  Businesses and secondary residences can generate the added revenues needed to support local government entities.
Thirty-seven of 42 districts in the state have a voted leeway.  Morgan does not have a voted leeway.
At the same Friday training another superintendent from Southern Utah questioned me, “Don’t you get federal forest or BLM funds?  Surely you have a number of secondary residences in the valley?  What about your percentage of English Language Learners? How much do you generate from your voted leeway?”
My answer to all of his questions: “We get very little or no funding from these sources and we do not have a voted leeway.”
“Man, I don’t know how you can make it up there,” was his final response.
The Morgan Board of Education will conduct a Truth in Taxation Hearing and a Budget Hearing as part of their regular board meeting on August 14.  At that time the Board will review historical budget information from 2008 to the present.  They will discuss the possibility of making further cuts to the system as well as taking a vote on whether or not a tax increase is justified or necessary for 2013.  They will also consider the possibility of taking to the public the option of a voted leeway.
The work session will begin at 4 p.m. in the district board room, followed at 6 p.m. by the regular board meeting.  The Truth in Taxation and Budget Hearings are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.  The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Depending on the number of attendees at the meeting, it may be moved to a larger venue at Morgan High School.
The Board is committed to protecting the integrity of our educational system for the benefit of the county’s children and youth.  Tough times call for tough decisions.  I would encourage you to attend the August 14 board meeting and learn more about the challenges we face and the options to overcome them.