Falling Milton-Freewater school enrollment might mean funding cuts

Milton-Freewater School District might need to cut anywhere from $532,000 to as much as $900,000.

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MILTON-FREEWATER — Enrollment at almost all Milton-Freewater schools has been declining for the last several years, and the drop is expected to have a major impact on funding next year.

That was the message delivered by Milton-Freewater School District Interim Superintendent James Reger to members of the School Board Tuesday during the board’s monthly meeting.

Reger presented figures on enrollment throughout the district since 2007, when the district enrolled about 2,047 students, to a current student population of about 1,850.

The current numbers, taken for February 2013, are about 67 students lower than the start of the school year in September, and about 102 students less than reported in Feb. 2012.

“I believe that is a direct result of the economy,” Reger said in looking to explain the drop over the years. He said families are leaving Milton-Freewater for Walla Walla, Athena, or out of state, often in search of jobs.

Reger said the enrollment drop could have a significant effect on state funding for next year. Based on projections from the state, the Milton-Freewater School District may need to cut anywhere from $532,000 to as much as $900,000 from its budget to account for the lost students.

The $900,000 figure was given as a worst-case scenario based on state budget projections for education funding. The School District has until the end of June to finalize its 2013-14 school year budget. The new school year starts July 1.

The district’s budget for this school year was about $19.3 million. Officials have been looking at an estimated $17.8 million budget for next year.

The district has six schools and a total full-time equivalent staff of 247, according to a district profile at www.openbooksproject.org. Per-student spending is $8,805 from all government sources, and the average teacher salary is $48,821.80, according to the web site.

The district received about $6,000 per student from the state this year, Reger said, not including funding for special programs like federal Title I, bilingual and special education. Reger said a dollar amount per student has not yet been set for the upcoming year.

Reger did say there is a chance enrollment may improve before the end of the school year.

“We would not be facing the reductions if it was not for the loss of 100 students,” Reger said. “But that could change.”

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