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State to retain control of Preston school system

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Board of Education voted Wednesday for the state to continue control of Preston County Schools due to ongoing problems with finances, facilities and other areas.The school system has shown slight progress, though, according to the Office of Education Performance Audits, and subsequently was granted local control of district policies and the operation of the school calendar.Ongoing problems cited in the report include decreasing student test scores, the lack of an adequate system to analyze data and a flawed teacher evaluation process.The main concern for the state Department of Education is still the county's financial troubles.The school district currently has a deficit of more than $2 million. The county has slightly decreased its school personnel to save some funding and has cut into the deficit by about $430,000 when compared to last year.But the recent failure of an excess levy in Preston County could make recovering those funds even more difficult.Voters in Preston County chose not to renew a $1.7 million excess levy to provide for school maintenance operations.The levy would've taken care of fees associated with school construction, transportation and technology assistance.Preston County Superintendent Larry Parsons thinks voters did not realize the implications of not passing the levy, and said with many in the area hit-hard after Superstorm Sandy, voters weren't in the mood to give up more money.
"When the levy was defeated, it was somewhat of a surprise to me. We really got caught by a comprehensive and perfect storm," Parsons said.West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple said she's concerned about the county's progress because without the levy, the district will be burdened with extra maintenance costs, like snow removal and lawn upkeep."I am extremely concerned about the financial situation with the loss of the excess levy. There are obligations in that levy that you still have to provide for. You're looking at cutting back on a deficit of $2.2 million, and that's substantial," she said. "You're going to see cuts to basic services, and it becomes very difficult to provide what you need to provide without that excess levy while actually addressing the deficit that's in front of you."The OEPA audit commends Preston County Schools for its administration working together to address the issues, and Parsons is confident in the direction the district is headed."Three years ago, this county was in really bad shape. It's taken us years to get to a point where we have quality people in our central office. Now, we have one of the best curriculum officials in the state," he said. "Overall, we are pleased with where we are and would like to go further."Recommendations were made for the county to re-evaluate its current level of staffing and other expenditures to continue to lessen the deficit.
The state board members are: Wade Linger, Gayle Manchin, Bob Dunlevy, Priscilla Haden, Jenny Phillips, Bill White, Mike Green, Lloyd Jackson and Lowell Johnson.  Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-4814.  
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