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Mabton schools deal with shrinking pains

MABTON - The good news is the Mabton School District is about to receive more state dollars. The bad news is that due to declining enrollment the district is actually over-staffed. That's the upshot from a budget study session the Mabton School Board held last night, Monday. Business Manager Gina Grow said it will be later this week before the district has a firm grasp on anticipated revenues since state lawmakers only recently finalized budgets for the coming biennium. What is known, she told the board, is that according to the new state budget Mabton and school districts across Washington will receive an additional $174 per student for the 2013-14 school year. There will be an additional $44 tacked on to that in 2014-15. For Mabton schools that means about $150,000 more rolling into district coffers for the next school year based on current enrollment numbers. And it is those enrollment numbers that leave the district in a bit of a pickle. Mabton receives state basic education dollars for about 41 teachers, but employs about 45. The difference of basically four teachers not funded by the state is costing the district's general fund about $300,000 each year, Grow estimates. Superintendent Minerva Morales called on the board to make some tough choices. The district has long struggled with significant budget deficits. In 2010-11, the school year just before Morales and Grow were hired, the Mabton School District ran a budget deficit of $1.15 million. The deficit now stands at $769,917 following the 2012-13 school year, and Morales says more cuts are needed. That's especially true, she contends, given that Mabton schools have lost more than 50 students since 2009-10. Enrollment today stands at 886 students, based on averages from the 2012-13 school year. Families leaving the area for jobs or housing or even students attending school in Sunnyside were all possible causes raised last night for the exodus. The bottom line, says Morales, is that the deficit issue must be addressed. "We've been chipping away at it," she said of reducing the deficit. "But the big rock is over-staffing." Morales suggested staff reduction based on attrition, not filling positions when they become vacant. To that end, it was suggested last night to eliminate the district's music program. A teacher who taught half the time at the elementary school and the other half at the junior/senior high school has resigned, leaving a vacancy. School Board Chair Elsa Sanchez opposed that move. "I can't support that," she said. Sanchez was on the board in 2009 when it cut the music program for the 2009-10 school year. Sanchez noted the district is already lacking in drama and art course offerings, and didn't want to see music cut again. Another possible budget cut eyed last night was continuing to go without a technology director and continue on a contract basis for services with ESD 105. The district has been without a technology director since April and, if it can get by long term with the current contract, the district could stand to cut about $35,000 from its budget for 2013-14. The Mabton School Board will hold a public budget hearing on Monday, July 22, at 5:30 p.m. at the district office. The board is then expected to take action on the 2013-14 budget during its regular business meeting at 6:30 p.m.

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