MARCUS - An estimated 75-85 concerned citizens gathered in the Commons area at the Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn High School on Monday night in a Public Forum. They were there to learn more from the school administrators and Board about the District's current financial and enrollment situation.
In MMC's case, as for many Iowa rural school districts, the enrollment has been declining for several years. The District currently has 427 students, down 129 from six years ago. when factoring in the state of Iowa's 10% across-the-board cut in funding, it leaves the District with serious concerns about meeting the needs of the District's students within the limited budget.
Mohning raised several possible options that the school might consider. The first option, doing nothing, would mean that the District would continue to show a negative balance year after year, and if that happened, the state could come in and demand that the school close.
The second option would be to cut staff positions - not a great solution for the students or staff.
A third option might be to raise taxes, and Mohning pointed out that the MMC District tax rate of $10.50 per $1000 evaluation is currently one of the lowest tax levels in the state.
Another option would be using the District's Cash reserve Levy, but he stated that would only get the District through he 2010 school year and then they would revert to a negative balance again.
The final option Mohning mentioned was closing the Cleghorn building, which currently houses the 4th-6th grade students, as a means of saving money on heating and maintaining the building. One problem with that solution, he said, was that the process of closing the building, relocating students, etc. would be at least a two-year process, not to mention the fact that the District would have to find a new location for the students in those grades.
Mohning said that even doing some combination of raising taxes, early retirement incentives and closing the Cleghorn building would only get the District through the 2012-2013 school year.
The final option for the Board to consider would be whole-grade sharing or consolidation with another School District. MMC has done some sharing with the Remsen-Union District (librarian, Special Education) and both District's Boards have visited each other's facilities for a tour, but Brandhorst emphasized that the MMC Board has not made any decision about sharing and would not do so without investigating the situation more thoroughly and inviting further public input.
Superintendent Brandhorst told the crowd that he realizes the current situation is "a little scary" right now, and he said one of the problems is that no one really knows what the state will do with funding in the future, which makes planning difficult. He did say that the MMC District is certainly not alone in this situation and that, in fact, most of the schools in the state, particularly the smaller districts, are in a similar situation with declining enrollments and reduced funding.
The School Board was scheduled to continue with its regular meeting after the conclusion of the Public Forum. Brandhorst said that the Board had not yet set a date for a Public Hearing on the proposed budget, but that it had to be done by April 15, and that Monday, April 12 is a likely date for he Public Hearing.
The major issues in the MMC Teacher's Association proposal calls for a 7.5-percent hike in salary and insurance benefits, and one additional personal day per school year to be carried over to a maximum of six accruing. The current contract allows two personal days per school year with no carry over. The MMC Board of Education has proposed a freeze of the current contract.
Monday, Brandhorst again emphasized that no decisions on the future of the District have been made and that the Board would need to thoroughly study all of their options and "get (their)ducks in a row," before setting any kind of timeline for action. He also said that another Public hearing such as the one Monday night would also most likely be part of the Board's decision-making process.
Like most Districts who find themselves in a similar situation, most of the people in the room Monday night are rightfully proud of their District, and their preference would be to keep things as they are.
Members of the audience had several questions for Brandhorst and Board members, and there was definitely concern about some issues, such as pay raises, but all in all, it seemed that those who were present at the meeting have come to the realization that something will need to be done in the not-too-distant future to ensure that MMC students continue to receive the splendid education to which they have become accustomed.