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Utica — To balance its $279 million budget for 2015-16, Utica Community Schools is laying off 34 teachers, selling vacant property and making other reductions to cut costs.

District officials said a decline in federal grant funds and falling enrollment forced the school board to enact the cuts Monday night.

"The key points regarding the layoffs are the loss of federal grants and declining enrollment," said Tim McAvoy, the district spokesman. "The 34 positions will be across our 36 schools."

The district said federal Title I, II and III grant reductions total nearly $600,000.

The budget reflects a structural deficit of $16.6 million that the district said will "significantly grow without future reductions, enrollment increases or revenue growth."

Officials said the district is using much of its fund balance to balance the 2015-16 budget, leaving "reserves of 2.1 percent" of the operating budget, or $5.8 million.

Over the past 10 years, enrollment in Utica, the state's second-largest school district, has declined by about 1,300, to 28,122 students.

"The loss of student enrollment further impacts us by creating a greater gap between our expenditures and revenues," Superintendent Christine Johns said. "The plan we are presenting... is a balanced budget. However, an issue that remains to be addressed is that our expenditures continue to outpace our revenues."

The district said it expects enrollment to keep dropping. Over the past seven years, birthrates in Macomb County have dropped by nearly 10 percent.

To counteract the downward enrollment trend in next year's budget, the district is selling vacant property it owns on the west side of Schoenherr Road, between 22 Mile and 23 Mile, for $3.1 million.

The board also approved a series of service changes and reductions that will save $5.1 million. Among them:

— "Major changes" to fall bus routes.

— Reducing administrative and paraprofessional staffing.

— Reducing professional development.

— Eliminating a third-grade field trip to the Detroit Zoo.

—- Transferring school-age child care personnel to a contractor.

— Eliminating Successline, Inc., which McAvoy said is a contracted data tool the district no longer needs.

— Cost-savings in the alternative education program.

SLewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

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