April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

FRHC Schools facing funding crunch

By HSJ Online [email protected]

Flat Rock-Hawcreek schools would face a loss of $428,905 next year under the most recent general fund budget estimates, or about 7.5 percent of the district's general fund budget.

Griffey briefed the school board on the dire financial picture at a special informational meeting of the board last week.

The changes would bring the district's total general fund budget from $5.7 million this year to $5.3 million next year, school officials estimated. The general fund is mostly made up of salaries, benefits and programs for vocational and special education.

"It is a 7.47 percent decrease in the amount of money we receive," Griffey said. "It means that we are really having to look at the way we are spending our money, again, and to make sure that we have revenue matching expenditures."

Griffey said the special session of the school board was called to explain the "sticky wicket" that will be the upcoming budgets.

The district is coming up on a milestone where it begins to spend more money than it is taking in, Griffey said. The general fund will go from $116,924 in positive income in Jan. 2015 to a negative $171,460 by June 30th, Griffey said.

"That is the concern where we are headed," Griffey said. "That now we have got deficit spending in the (2015) school year."

And even the positive number earlier this year is too close to the line, Griffey said.

"That is so close," Griffey said. "When you are that close out of that big of a budget, you are teetering on anything that could put you over the edge. You have no wiggle room at all to take care of an unexpected expenditure, an unexpected emergency, something goes and you have to take care of it."

Historically, the district's general fund has shrunk from $6.7 million in 2008 to $5.7 million.

"In 2008, we had over a million dollars more to spend that year alone, in one year, on programs, on services to kids, on making sure that we had lots of people walking through the door to give those services to kids," Griffey said. "In 2008, we had a million dollars more and we were almost spending all of it... We were spending a lot on kids for programs that year. And all of a sudden the slide starts in 2009, 2010 and we really haven't recovered in revenue in any year, except for a little bit in between 2010-11."

Griffey said that as the slide occurred, hard decisions were made on cuts. But the district was also able to turn to various sources to shore up the budget, ranging from stimulus funds to federal jobs funds.

"We had a lot of money that was available to us from various sources that kind of kept us from going over the edge," Griffey said. "We had a total $1.4 million and we spent it. We spent it on programs and keeping the school afloat with extra dollars. Right now, 2013 and beyond, we really don't have any options. Nobody is giving us any extra money."

An important component affecting the district's funding is declining enrollment. According to estimate's of next year's student body, the number of students in the district will have dropped by about 24 percent over the last 10 years, from 1,130 students in 2005 to an estimated 855 next year.

The last count of students, done in February, gives a better picture of how revenues will change next year, Griffey said.

Shawn Price, the incoming superintendent for the district and current high school principal, said he and others are working on a program to really sell the schools to potential students and their families. The hope is that with better marketing and explanation of the benefits of the small-town school district, the enrollment declines could be stemmed.

"As Dr. Griffey mentioned, we are the best-kept secret," Price said. "Well, we don't want to be a secret any more. We need to make sure that people understand what we offer here. And I am convinced that people are looking for this small-school, family atmosphere to come educate their children."

The group is also working to figure out which students are leaving and why.

"I think it is critical to be able figure out this issue of student enrollment, to know what those factors are..." Price said.

"One of the things that was most interesting to me in those comparisons is that in a lot of cases, we are pulling in as many transfer students as we are losing to withdrawals. It is kind of a wash. Where we are losing students year over year is maybe our new enrollments at the end of the year, with people not coming back."

Julie Swegman, a third grade teacher at Hope Elementary School and a parent with students in the school district, said that nobody can dispute that cuts will have to be made to the budget.

"But I feel like we have choices that we can make," Swegman said. "I am concerned because I have been hearing about teacher cuts. As you know, Hope Elementary is on academic probation and we worked so hard last year to get our grade up from a D to a B and I feel like if we have teacher cuts at Hope Elementary that is going to jeopardize the progress that we have been able to make."

Swegman said that during the election season, she listened to parent concerns and most said they were concerned about increasing class sizes and the loss of teacher's assistant at the elementary school.[[In-content Ad]]