Mammoth Spring Schools have been placed on a fiscal distress list by the Arkansas Board of Education. According to Superintendent Ronald Taylor, the school will not be on the list for long, however. Taylor said the reason why the school is on the list is because of having a declining balance.
Schools placed on the fiscal distress list for two years in a row face consolidation. Mansfield and Osceola school districts were also put on the list.
"Around 2005 or 2006, we went from 412 to 458 students," Taylor said. "Don't ask me why, but we did. Well, when you do that (grow in the number of students), you have to have staffing to meet the accreditation standards. You have to have an extra counselor. You have to have extra teachers at the elementary level because you've got student-(teacher) ratio. Then, when the students move, you've got to decrease. The dollars follow the kids. We're talking about $6,000 in state and local aid per (student). It doesn't take too much movement on the part of kids for a little school like this to really upset the apple cart when it comes to money."
The total expenditure per student at Mammoth Spring is $8,394. Other schools within the same student population range from $7,149 to $12,686 per student. Mammoth Spring now has a student population of 415.
He said the school's state aid this year was cut by about $83,000 based on the student count.
Taylor said it's hard to know where the students go when they leave the Mammoth Spring School District. "Our area depends on tourism and transportation and trains," Taylor said. "I've had kids that have had to check out of school this year to go with their parents to Wyoming or Oregon with the railroad because the railroad was laying off people."
Taylor said about a year ago the school realized that it was in trouble, financially, and was able to pass a five mill increase in September 2008 going from 25 to 30 mills in hopes of recovering. "We're going to collect that (millage passed in 2008) in October 2009," Taylor said. However, the Arkansas Board of Education did not take the new millage into account. Taylor said the school could get about $120,000 per year from the millage if it collects 100 percent of the millage. "Historically, we've been able to collect 95 percent of the millage," Taylor said.
He said one of the state board members told him the district's efforts to make the school financially stable were appreciated and that the millage increase should be enough to get the school off the financial distress list soon.
Along with the increase in millage, the school has also cut back its operating expenses.
"I'm not arguing the fine points with them. It is what it is. They've put us on the list, and I'm going to cooperate 100 percent with them and get us off the list as quick as we can because it's a little embarrassing to even be associated with (the list)," Taylor said.
He also said the economy has not been working very well for anyone. Taylor said last year diesel for the buses doubled in price, and propane went from $1.35 per gallon to $2.10 per gallon. "Now, we've locked in a deal for next year at $1.39 (per gallon of propane), so that's $14,000 saved in one fell swoop just on propane alone," Taylor said.
He said there are other variables such as retired teachers that the school hasn't replaced yet. "We're just going to work our way through this and cut corners where we can and build a balance back to were they (the state board of education) would like for us to have, which is kind of a moving target. They don't tell you how much balance they want you to have it's just that they'd like for you to have more than you had last year," Taylor said.
He said the district will end this year with a surplus balance of $153,000.
Despite some financial setbacks, Mammoth Spring Schools have been able to make some progress over the past five years, according to Taylor. He said there is a new preschool program for 3 and f4-year-olds, a new reading recovery program, a new medical professions program at the high school for students who want to become involved in the medical field, and they have completed some renovation projects.
He said he is hoping by next year the state board of education will give the school a "clean bill of health" on its budget.