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Enrollment hike means pay cut will decrease for Mitchell educators

A larger-than-expected increase in the Mitchell School District's student count will translate to less financial pain for teachers and taxpayers, Superintendent of Schools Joe Graves said Thursday.

The higher student numbers mean that a teacher pay cut will be $500 instead of the $1,000 previously approved by the board.

In addition, Graves said he will recommend during a special school board meeting on Monday that the school board reduce the opt-out amount for the 2012 calendar year from the previously approved $400,000 to $350,000. The "opt-out" is the amount of money above and beyond state-imposed tax limitations that the district can collect from taxpayers, thanks to voter approval in a prior year.

The special meeting will be 1 p.m. Monday at the Mitchell Technical Institute north campus. The meeting originally was called to review the excavation bids for the new Trades Center building on the south campus, but the new wage and opt-out recommendations will be added to the agenda.

The announcement will be a pleasant surprise to district teachers, predicted Mitchell Education Association Chief Negotiator Curt Smith.

"It's a complete surprise and it will bump spirits," he said Thursday.

Graves said numbers are close to finalized but not totally firm yet on the student headcount for this year.

"But we believe the count will be up by 50 to 55 students," he said. The district used a much smaller increase in its budget projections, he said. State Department of Education records list Mitchell's fall 2010 K-12 enrollment as 2,468.

The student count is an important number, because state education aid is based on student population.

Once the final count is determined, the school district administrators will receive a percentage cut equal to that received by the teachers.

Thursday's good news for teachers came on the same day the school board and teachers had originally set to meet with a Department of Labor mediator. The meeting was canceled when the board and the MEA reached an accord.