LINCOLN - Alcona Community Schools Superintendent Shawn Thornton made clear on Monday that unless the school sees an increase in revenue, it will have no choice but to cut teachers and programs to a degree that would seriously impact the education of its students.
Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational School District's proposed regional enhancement millage was the topic of the Alcona school board's work session meeting on Monday, at which Thornton laid out the stakes of the pending millage election. On Feb. 26, 2013, voters of Alpena, Alcona, and Montmorency counties will decide whether to give AMA ESD three mills ($3 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation) for 10 years, from 2013-22, to compensate for recent state cuts in education funding that have put AMA's constituent districts in dire financial straights. AMA would not keep any of the funds but would distribute the total among Alpena, Alcona, Atlanta and Hillman based on student population.
Thornton said Alcona schools' annual revenue declined by about $1.834 million from 2004 to 2012, partially due to a 24 percent reduction in enrollment during that period but aggravated by the fact minor revenue increases have not kept pace with expense increases. Since 2004, the school has cut teaching and support staff nearly in half, leaving only a single custodian in the entire district, and eliminated band, choir, the district's middle school, its guidance counselor, almost all elective courses, paid field trips, at-risk student support, its police liaison, district-operated food service, its media specialist, dozens of other clubs and positions, and bus routes to an extant that has made the average one-way bus ride two hours long.
Thornton said she believes the school has done an "outstanding" job under the circumstances, but she and the board supported AMA's proposal for a millage election because AMA is the only entity that can legally hold one, and because it is the only viable option left to them.
"It's not that we have not been, as a district, responsive to declining enrollment. We were ... aware of the fact that we were going to experience declining enrollment, and we planned for that. It's all the other stuff on top of that that has been absolutely financially crippling to the district," she said. "We will go into deficit at some point unless I cut things, and quite frankly, when I look around, I am a little flabbergasted about what would be next."
The school's auditor recommended maintaining a fund equity equal to at least one month of operating expenses, or about $738,000. Maintaining its current level of services, revenue, and expenses; and accounting for an allegedly optimistic $220,000 carryover from the previous year; the school would see its fund balance drop to about $13,200 in the 2013-14 school year, a fraction of a single day's operating expenses. Thornton said the enhancement millage would generate about $780,000 for the school preventing it from falling into deficit and possibly allowing it to restore programs that have been cut. If the millage fails, the school would need to cut about $600,000 more from its budget to approach a safe fund balance.
"This enhancement millage is not a windfall for our district," she said. "This enhancement millage is necessary for our district, for us to even be able to stay where we are and continue to provide quality education."
Steering committee members Bob Petrovich and Robyn Hart said they would attempt to inform the public about the millage over the next few months.
Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693.