Wrestling with a budget deficit

No one wants a budget deficit.

In a household, it means cutting extras or even rationing essentials.

In governmental units, it also means cutting extras, or rationing essentials.

The Iron Mountain School District is wrestling with a budget deficit of some $252,000 by the end of this fiscal year.

To help, the school district has proposed cutting some $150,000 from teachers’ salary and benefits. That would likely mean salary reductions or staff cuts. This is an option no one wants.

School officials have some plans to rectify the situation, but nothing is certain.

What is certain is if the school district continues down the path of a budget deficit, the state steps in and requires the district to file a plan to erase the deficit within three years.

Some ideas floated at this week’s meeting of the Iron Mountain Board of Education included selling Central School to be used for a housing project for people aged 55 and older; appealing to Lansing to increase local school funding; and improving student offerings so more students choose to attend class at Iron Mountain.

Each possible solution has its own challenge.

Selling Central School would possibly solve the budget situation this year, but what about future years, when that money is gone?

Appealing to Lansing to increase school funding would take an enormous effort. State officials have announced that they have a $1 billion surplus this year. As one might expect, there is no shortage of ideas how to spend this money, including road repair, tax cuts and tax rebates. Everyone is lined up with their hands out.

Improving school offerings to lure more students to Iron Mountain is a long-term solution, but would probably not affect this year’s deficit.

Actually, the student count appears to be at the center of the issue. The deficit is directly related to a loss of students.

Officials anticipated an enrollment of 941 students this year, but the student count was 888 at the beginning of the school year. Since the state provides some $7,300 per student to the district, that equated to a decrease of $387,000 in revenue.

Adding students is a solution, but how do you find new students in an area when the population is steady or declining? Other school districts are also losing students.

Indeed, the challenges are multifaceted. What’s encouraging is the board’s resolve to find a solution.

“We’re doing as much as we can right now,” said Supt. Tom Jayne. “We are going through a rough patch, but together we can’t fail.”