Archived Story

District looks to reverse enrollment trend

Published 9:15pm Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Sagging enrollments put Dowagiac Union Schools on a fiscal cliff of its own.

The school board at a special work session Wednesday evening heard an overview from Finance Director Dawn Copley showing a $1.4 million deficit in the current budget for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Total revenues of $20,038,234 and expenditures of $21,424,797 would reduce the district’s fund balance from $4,672,197 to $3,285,634 by July 1.

The school board and administrators, including Supt. Dr. Mark Daniel and Deputy Supt. Dawn Conner — 21 people in all — gathered around a table in the middle school cafeteria to discuss how to turn the tide, from billboards, social media and home schoolers to celebrating academic successes before large crowds at athletic events or fine arts programs.

“Every person who is an employee is part of a profit-sharing mechanism,” Daniel said. “When we’re not having a profit, we have to bear the loss and share that. When we do become profitable, based on whatever that magic number is in our fund equity which needs to cover months of the year when we don’t have payments from the state” to avoid borrowing.

“Fund sources aren’t there, so we have to figure out how to keep us together,” Daniel said. “Don’t think short-term, think long-term because it may be five years to get out of this financial phenomenon. It’s a state and national economic thing that the recovery is not as fast as hoped. We hoped the stimulus dollars ($1,929,698 between 2009 and 2011) would be enough to get us into an upward trend, but it didn’t happen. Instead of throwing everyone out and cutting programs, we’re all going to bear this tough time. We have to look at how we can reduce our current expenditures, knowing $16 million is employee wages and benefits. I don’t want my teachers to bear that sole responsibility, nor my custodians. I think it needs to be every employee in our organization. It’s about surviving, growing and improving, and, yes, by golly, we do need to advertise and market ourselves.”

“It’s everyone’s responsibility, when we’re out and about, talking about things, to share with the community” such positives as the Union High freshman mentoring program, the middle school’s Five Star program or 100 percent of three dozen Patrick Hamilton first-graders in Reading Recovery learning at grade level, new board member Ruth Ausra said.

“We have to target markets,” Daniel said.  “If it’s about retention, we have to be in that market of 14- to 18-year-olds, which does involve Facebook and Twitter. Also, despite the tremendous amount of professional development we do, we have never had training in how you market your own district and deliver that message constantly to all employees, so they know how important it is. It is critical that they are knowledgeable of that. Maybe we should switch some professional development dollars to that. When you retain students, it benefits the entire community. Every dollar put into education, $1.50 comes out. Our academic achievement has improved.

“This is a key discussion,” the superintendent said, “because this is a different mindset than what we had as educators. It is a business. Schools of Choice made it a business. We need to act as such.”

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