Onekama Schools impacted by declining enrollment

ONEKAMA — One thing that is certain in the world of education in Michigan is nothing is certain.

Members of the Onekama Consolidated Schools Board of Education discusses the student count at Monday’s board meeting.

Like most school districts around the state the Onekama Consolidated School District administration and board of education were waiting for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the legislature to come to an agreement in terms of school aid and the foundation allowance. However, last Friday school Onekama officials had everything turned around on them when the state notified them that due to shrinking enrollment they would now be “out of formula” and not eligible to receive the state per pupil funding.

How it will impact the district is still being determined by Manistee School Management Cooperative finance director Kris Mauntler, who oversees their budget and school officials. Mauntler said they are trying to get more details from the state, but explained how a district is determined to be in or out of formula.

“The state funding model is calculated by taking the districts student count and multiplying it by the foundation (state per pupil money),” said Mauntler. “From that number you subtract the local taxes and the remaining amount is the state’s share. If the local taxes is more than the total revenue then the district is considered ‘out of formula’ and all local tax revenue stays with the district. So if the district’s local revenue exceeds the state’s guaranteed revenue, they are ‘out of formula’ and receive no general school aid revenue.”

Mauntler told the board that they are right on the edge of being considered in formula and depending on certain factors they could shift back in once the fall student count is taken or the state budget is finalized and the district learns how much money it will receive. The student count day is Oct. 2, and the legislature says it will have its budget in place by Oct. 1.

She said the frustrating thing right now is getting answers from Lansing on how that will impact the district.

“I am not totally sure on the impact for this year as I am waiting to hear back from the state on the final calculation and yes a district can go in and out of formula each year, it all depends on the student count, state foundation (per pupil funding) and taxable value,” said Mauntler.

What prompted the action was a sharp decline in enrollment. Onekama school officials had built the district’s budget for the 2019-20 school year based on a projected student count of 405 students, which is what they finished the 2018-19 school year at last spring.

However, a graduating class of 36 students in May and an incoming kindergarten class this fall of only 20 students quickly changed things. Interim superintendent Mark Parsons said enrollment numbers did not come in as projected.

“Right now we are at 373 students on our rolls,” Parsons told the board of education. “It is a very significant number as you know in the work the board did in establishing the budget for this year was based on 405 students. There was a decrease in our numbers from last year to get to that 405 in thinking it would be an accurate total, but we are basically 30 students below that amount. That is a significant situation.”

Parsons said that in the past seven days “life has changed significantly” for the district after being notified by the state.

“We found out on Friday that we are now an Out of Formula district which means we get no state aid money and all our revenue comes from local taxes,” said Parsons. “What that does is create an interesting transition as we are just above the level. The state has interesting accounting procedures that we have not yet been able to calculate or figure out.”

Parsons said either way, if the district stays out of formula or goes back in formula later this month, it will have impacts on their budget this fall. He pointed out that because of the high property values in the Onekama school district, it could mean more money for the district to stay out of formula over time instead of remaining in formula with and receiving per pupil funding.

“The best thing I can probably say from this we anticipate if we stay out of formula because our tax rates will continue to grow in value would mean would mean increase our revenue from that local increased tax revenue,” said Parsons.

However, if the district were to move  back to being in formula due to increased state funding, it would mean they would have to deal with a decrease of 30 plus students. That would mean a considerable loss of state funding and the need to cut a sizeable amount of money out of the budget.

Board members inquired from principal Gina Hagen if they were tracking where the students were going that left.

She pointed to the decline in students coming in as opposed to the graduates last fall and that they lost some to people moving from the district as well as some transfers to other districts. She also gave the board the breakdown on enrollment in each grade.

Those numbers showed kindergarten (20 students), first grade (22 students), second grade (16 students), third grade (31 students), fourth grade (24 students), fifth grade (36 students), sixth grade (34 students), seventh grade (32 students), eighth grade (22 students), ninth grade (42 students), 10th grade (25 students), 11th grade (37 students) and 12th grade (31 students).

Parsons said they will continue to monitor the situation with the state and when they have more information will most likely call a special board meeting to keep the board posted on any developments. He also promised to keep the board updated on any new information as it came in instead of just doing his weekly email reports.

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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