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Enrollment Trends, Possible Budget Concerns Discussed By Emmetsburg School Board

By Staff | Oct 22, 2009

It seems like when it rains, it pours, and for the Emmetsburg Community School Board, there were gloomy forecasts to consider during the October meeting Monday night. A slight decline in enrollment was overshadowed by the possible repercussions of a state budget cut that would affect the local district’s budget.

Superintendent John Joint reviewed the final certified enrollment figures for the Emmetsburg district in the 2009-2010 school year with the board in Monday’s meeting. While there were declines, the overall condition of enrollment appears stable, according to the superintendent.

“The actual number of resident students in the Emmetsburg district totals 644, but that is down 22 from last year,” Joynt noted. “Now, of that number, 25 open-enroll out of our district, five more than last year, and three students tuition out to other districts, which would be our special education students, and that is unchanged from last year.”

Joynt went on to note that there were 4.58 students sharing time from the Emmetsburg Catholic School, down from 6.3 students in the 2008-2009 school year, making for a final actual enrollment number of 676.6 students, the number that the state will provide funding for in the next budget year.

“That 676.6 students is our actual enrollment, and it is down 19.10 students from 2008-2009. But, we have 103 students who have open enrolled into our district, which is 14 more students than we had last year, so the actual number of students of school age, in the buildings, is 751,6, a decline of 10.1 students,” Joynt said.

“Were you expecting our enrollment to go down?” asked board member Tammy Naig.

“No, we were actually expecting it to be even,” Joynt answered, “But what we’re seeing is that it looks like we lost about one kid per grade this year from last year.”

“We have to remember that we were up 43 kids last year,” pointed out board member Don Hagen. “I’d call this just a bump in the road. Compared to 2007, we’re still on an upward trend.”

The conversation turned towards the district’s current early retirement policy, which Joynt noted might come into play heavily as the state’s budget woes trickle down to local school districts in the form of reduced state aid.

According to Joynt, when an instructor takes early retirement, there is a considerable savings to the general fund by replacing that early retirement with a teacher starting out on the salary schedule, as opposed to the instructor who is higher on the schedule.

“Last year, we implemented a policy that gave $5,000 a year to a qualified person who took early retirement until they became Medicare eligible,” Joynt explained. “It’s basically a Medicare Bridge that the payment can come from our management funds, rather than the general fund.”

Last year, 13 instructors in the district were eligible for early retirement, and three took advantage of the option. To qualify for early retirement, the staff member must have reached 55 years of age. With the cost of single insurance for an individual costing the district $6,241 per year, the $5,000 early retirement payment can cover a significant share of that cost for an individual.

“I don’t recommend you make a long-term monetary incentive boost to the policy, but maybe a one-time robust incentive,” Joynt told the board.

“How robust?” Hagen asked.

“That’s up to you,” was Joynt’s reply.

“Can we afford this?” Naig asked. “I mean, to lose up to 13 of our most experienced teachers, I’d hate to do that.”

“We haven’t ever had that many takers in the past,” board President Karla Anderson noted.

“We usually only lose two or three a year,” agreed board member Steve Pelzer.

“It’s going to be difficult to come up with a viable amount,” Anderson noted. “Yet, I don’t want to lose our experienced teachers, our mentors. Coming up with a dollar amount is going to be the most difficult step about this.”

The board agreed to consider some ideas and bring suggestions to the next board meeting, as Joynt would like to be able to fashion a policy to put before the staff and those members who might be eligible for early retirement to give them an opportunity to weigh their options.

“We do need to act soon,” Anderson agreed, “The staff members need to decide what they’re going to do.”

“Usually, the staff member is either ready to go, or they’re not,” High School Principal Jay Jurrens noted. “Our staff has a lot of loyalty to the district, and sometimes it’s a very hard decision for them to make.”

Moving to the current state of the budget, Joynt noted that the 10 percent across-the-board cut in the state budget translated into a cut of 4.8 percent of the state aid funding received by the Emmetsburg district. That amount, roughly $344,000, would come into play for the next year’s budget.

“There are a lot of things in the air right now that we just don’t know,” Joynt explained. “A lot is going to depend on what the Legislature does when they get back in session. There’s a possibility that they could reinstate the state aid to schools, like they did last year when a cut was made.”

Joynt noted that one proposal being floated was for schools to switch to a four-day week, extending the class day by an hour each day. Such a move could save an estimated $47,000 in the transportation budget alone, but there were many other things to consider with such a move.

“Will the Legislature be bold and innovative in dealing with all this? I don’t know. We’ll all have to wait and see,” Joynt told the board.

According to the Superintendent, if the cuts were upheld, the local district would have to look at several options for the next school year. Among the possibilities would be an increase in property tax askings and staff reductions, as salaries require 80 percent of the district’s revenue. “Staff reductions are awfully hard to do at mid-year,” Joynt noted.

In an immediate move, the district has cut all non-essential expenditures and also halted the payment of Phase II monies and Teacher Quality funds to instructors. Phase II payments ranged from $501 to $928 per teacher, based on seniority, while all instructors receive $4,228 in Teacher Quality funds, in addition to their regular salary.

“If the cuts are negated, we can go back and make up those payments,” Joint noted.

“To go to that four-day week, would something like that have to go through the Legislature?” Anderson asked.

“Yes it would have to be approved by the Legislature, but it certainly could be an option,” Joint replied. “Overall, we’re just going to have to wait and see what the Legislature ends up doing.”