Sunday, February 21, 2010

A grand gift for Grand District, Utah

A late Christmas present has landed in the lap of the financially troubled Grand School District. An anonymous donor is giving the district $700,000, which will save the jobs of seven teachers and enable the district to forego implementing a four-day school week.

"We are elated just elated," Grand District spokeswoman Becky McCormick told the Deseret News Wednesday. Left with $2 million in debt due to accounting errors, Grand District in Moab has been planning, among other cuts, to lay off 50 employees  21 percent of the district's 210 staff members. Even with the gift, they will still have to lay off about 43 employees. "We have run into hard times," said Grand District Superintendent Margaret Hopkin. One result of the extra $700,000 is class sizes won't have to be increased as much as planned. The district had planned to put 36 kids in each K-3 classroom. Now, thanks to the gift, they can reduce that number to 24 kids per class. In grades 3-6, budget constraints had forced the district to consider putting 36 kids in each class. Now they can reduce that number to 30. The middle school guidance counselor position will be reinstated. Educators will maintain their current salaries through this school year, which were the same as last school year. But it's not all good news. The donation is one-time funds, meaning that the school district may still have to go to a four day week next year, and that additional positions may be cut. The district is already slicing its activities fund by $100,000. Hopkin is cutting $10,000 from her $91,000 salary, for which she is contracted to work 260 days per year. Board members are also discussing reducing their stipends. The district is selling off five land parcels, plus its district office. The 3,000-square foot structure was built in 1955, remodeled in the 1970s and could bring potentially $200,000. The board will instead meet in city or county buildings. Grand is discussing posing a voted leeway for an undecided amount in June. A $1.6 million measure failed in November, but district officials say the district now has more public support. Grand District discovered an almost $2 million deficit in September after the death of its business administrator Doug Cannon. Before Cannon died due to illness, property tax revenues were placed in the wrong fund, making it seem as if the district had more money than it did. Budgets were created based on this misconception. Money  which the district didn't have  was spent, mainly on salaries, according to district officials. An audit released by the State Office of Education in December stated there was no evidence of embezzlement. The report outlined recommendations for ensuring financial errors don't continue.

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