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Fairmont Area cannot continue on current path

January 26, 2012
Gary Andersen, Lee Smith , Fairmont Sentinel

If voters in the Fairmont Area school district thought they were done considering the school's financial future after turning aside a referendum last fall, they were wrong. The school's finances are better, thanks to an influx of 70 students, but projections show the district will spend down its $1.4 million savings in the next couple of years, and then face a massive deficit of more than $2 million in the 2014-2015 school year. That is simply unsustainable.

The district has begun considering short-term and longer-term solutions. Some are just common sense, such as getting Lincoln School off the district's hands for an estimated annual savings of $100,000. Other choices would be extremely unpopular and likely cause students to leave the district. Here we are speaking of cutting sports or other student activities. A simple truth is that the district is going to need more revenue.

One area in which the school really needs to push is in aggressively marketing itself to attract more students. Among other things, the district has a beautiful new elementary building. It is a technological innovator, giving every freshman a laptop. The school also could tout its ag education program, should that come to fruition through a public-private partnership.

At the same time, Fairmont Area is going to need the help of taxpayers. Last fall, they rejected a $1,400 per pupil excess levy. It would have replaced a $500 levy that expires in a couple years. Like us, voters saw the $1,400 level as a stretch. But an operating levy in the $1,000 range would not be out of line. It would allow the school system to maintain its programs while trying to grow the student population.

We hope district residents understand the situation because a referendum could be coming as early as fall. The school's situation is serious and must be addressed.



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