Morrice schools cuts staff to balance budget

Morrice Area Schools announced it has laid off three support staff and a teacher as part of its 2020-21 budget, approved by the district’s board of education June 24.

MORRICE — Morrice Area Schools announced it has laid off three support staff and a teacher as part of a 2020-21 budget officials say should maintain academic and extracurricular programming for students.

The preliminary budget, approved by the district’s board of education June 24, projects revenue at about $5.1 million, with expenditures of nearly $5.5 million.

School districts in Michigan are required to finalize their budgets by July 1 while the state budget typically is not complete until October.

Budgeted revenue for 2020-21 is down approximately $547,957 from the final 2019-20 budget, largely due to a projected $500 per pupil funding cut in the district’s state foundation allowance because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morrice’s 2019-20 revenues also took a hit Monday, however, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republican-led Michigan Legislature announced they had reached an agreement to balance the state’s 2020 budget that includes a $256-million cut to the per-pupil foundation allowance for K-12 schools — about $170 to 180 per pupil. The deal also allocates roughly $512 million to Michigan school districts to help cover expenses incurred from the ongoing pandemic as well as prepare for fall instruction.

For Morrice, the $180 per pupil funding cut equates to a loss of approximately $94,000 in revenue from the 2019-20 budget year, according to the district’s Business Manager Lynnette Cole.

“Our fiscal year ended June 30, so as you can imagine, our money has been spent,” Cole said. “Our only option is to use fund equity to cover the loss.”

The district initially budgeted $383,819 from its fund equity to balance expenditures for the 2020-21 budget year, though the last minute $94,000 cut by the state in per pupil funding for 2019-20 will force the district to draw roughly $477,819 from fund equity to balance the books.

The district’s estimated fund balance after the upcoming school year is $267,736, about 4.9 percent of total expenditures.

“It has been extremely difficult to draft a proposed budget for 2020-21, due to the fact that there are so many unknowns,” Superintendent Michael Dewey said. “This is going to be a very challenging year not only for Morrice Area Schools but for all the districts in the state.”

Morrice is projecting a decline of 10 students from October 2019, a reduction that, coupled with an anticipated $500 per pupil funding cut from the state, led to layoffs of two support staff at the high school and one at the elementary school, according to Dewey. The district has also cut one full-time English/social studies teacher at the high school amid the uncertainty.

Morrice will receive approximately $54,000 in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to Dewey, though the funds cannot be used for personnel.

“We are anticipating these funds will be used for PPE equipment, technology enhancement, internet connection and cleaning materials,” Dewey said. “We are still developing our ‘Return to School’ plan, but we do anticipate utilizing funds for student and staff safety items.”

Cole said it’s difficult to know how large of a cut to state funding Morrice might see, given that the state Legistlature has yet to approve its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We (certainly) don’t want to lay off staff or ask employees to take pay reductions prematurely, but depending on what the actual cut ends up being that could be a possibility down the road,” Cole said. “The COVID-19 measures that schools will have to put in place is another added expense but it sounds like the state might be giving us access to funds to offset that, which is great, but it doesn’t make up for the money we lose from our general fund to pay for the normal day-to-day operations.”

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