BEAVER TOWNSHIP- South Range Local may be opening its doors to students residing outside the district to combat a projected operating deficit.
Schools Superintendent Dennis Dunham Monday night recommended to the school board to adopt an adjacent open enrollment policy for grades kindergarten through six only, as well as alter the academic schedule to reduce busing, in an attempt to eliminate a nearly $855,000 deficit by July 2014. The board took no action on the recommendations at the meeting.
According to Dunham, a 4.9-mill, new money levy would generate $842,800 annually- a yearly increase in taxes of $257.25 for a $150,000 home owner- and the district would only start collecting on it beginning January 2014. The school board would have to submit the levy to the board of elections by Jan. 7.
If the district were to fill the elementary classes to a capacity of 100 students, in addition to the 24 students for which the district receives funding via contractual agreements, the proposed open enrollment would generate $1,054,688 annually in state funding for 184 students - equal to a 6.1-mill levy, Dunham said. The funding would be available at the beginning of the school year, he added.
Adjacent open enrollment means that the district will only accept students from the eight districts that abut South Range, Dunham said. A screening process can filter students with behavioral issues, but the school cannot reject students based on grades, and students must be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, he said. The policy must be approved each year, so the board can chose to end open enrollment if the district's financial situation improves.
Considering the difficulty school districts across the state have had in passing new money levies, as well as the insufficient boost a levy would give to the budget, Dunham told the board that he does not view a levy as a viable option for South Range. He said he does not believe a levy plus open enrollment will work because people likely won't approve a levy, nor will open enrollment and cuts because then there is no incentive to attend South Range.
Several parents voiced complaints about open enrollment, though, expressing concerns such as bad elements coming in and open enrollment families not paying taxes to the school. Many of them encouraged the board to pursue a levy instead of open enrollment.
But Dunham responded with confidence that the district can bring in desirable students.
"Open enrollment attracts students and families making a commitment to the district, who value education and want to be here- new blood that can be positive for the district," he said.
Open enrollment isn't the only significant cost saving maneuver Dunham recommended Monday night.
He suggested that the board alter the academic schedule so that all students kindergarten through 12th grade are attending school at the same time. Doing so will enable the district to reduce bus routes to one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with kindergarten through 12th-grade students riding at the same time. Such an action could save the district over $56,000 in fuel, as well as decrease maintenance costs, he said.
Acknowledging that such action would likely mean a need for more buses and more drivers, Dunham said a decrease in driver's hours and including extra work such as field trips in the regular work week could save the district an additional $57,000.
Other cost savings recommended by Dunham included $100,000 in materials and supplies through rationing and awareness, and $100,000 in purchased services (utilities, maintenance, monitoring) through reductions and awareness.
He noted that the district could look at staffing, which constitutes 80 percent of the budget, but all employees are currently under an absolute pay freeze, relatively few are nearing retirement age and staff positions are already being consolidated. He also noted that programs that would be cut include library services, guidance and OWE in addition to electives, programs that are vital to the school's demographics.
"None [of the recommendations] are easy, none are painless, but it's where I believe we need to go," Dunham said.
Kevin Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org