By Janie Southard
The Alternative School Program will begin the school year with a deficit of $22,974, but Mercer County Educational Service Center Superintendent Gene Linton isn't surprised.
Linton told board members at Thursday night's regular meeting he predicted earlier in the year a deficit of at least $20,000.
"With all the cuts from (the schools served by ESC) last school year, I knew we would be in a deficit," Linton said.
Board members wondered when that situation may turn around, but Linton said there was no way of knowing until schools get back in session and start sending students to the program.
The Alternative School Program serves two groups of students: those suspended from their home schools; and at-risk students struggling to earn enough credits to graduate. In the wake of the state's school funding shuffle, local schools made budget cuts the past two years that affected enrollment in the alternative program.
During the April ESC board meeting, Linton said "a recent drop in high school opportunity students has caused great concern. This recent trend in low enrollment may cause the Alternative School Program to lose several thousand dollars this year."
As early as six months ago, board members were looking for ways to head off the deficit, but enrollment is the key to revenue.
Last year, Celina City Schools officials cut $100,000 from the ESC program in order to deal with their own funding woes.
Linton said he intends to meet with Celina Superintendent Fred Wiswell to try "to get a commitment" to enroll a certain number of students and to discuss a revised billing procedure.
Board members were concerned with the current general fund balance of $222,161, but ESC Treasurer Mary Brandon explained July was a three-payroll month as well as a two-insurance premium month.
The three payrolls alone totaled almost $451,000.
"Next month's numbers will be better than average, but it won't be until September that we get back to a normal month," Brandon said.
ESC is funded through state and federal grants as well as money received from Mercer County schools and other public schools for services provided.