West Virginia Board of Education members on Thursday unanimously approved plans for school boards in Boone and Calhoun counties to eliminate their deficits.
Both school systems have “casual deficits,” which is a recurring deficit or a deficit greater than 3 percent. Had board members not approved the deficit-reduction plans Thursday, they would have declared a state of emergency in those counties and appointed a team of consultants to recommend changes.
Boone County Schools’ plan to tackle their deficit relies on, among other things, eliminating optical and dental insurance for employees and retirees of the school system, reducing a supplement paid to professional and service employees down to the 1984 county supplement amount and eliminating some extracurricular programs. The system already has done some of these things.
Jeffrey Huffman, Boone County’s superintendent, wrote in his county’s plan that the economic climate of the county means “continued uncertainty” for the board’s finances.
“This instability is based on the fact that we have realized significant losses in student enrollment as families leave the area to find gainful employment and realizing further decline in project tax collections for the 2018 fiscal year,” Huffman wrote.
Calhoun County Schools officials plan to eliminate stipends to service and professional employees, eliminate contract bus drivers, reduce child nutrition expenses and require all purchase orders to be approved by the superintendent and chief financial officer, among other things.
“These actions along with sound fiscal management stopped the further growth of the deficit and actually cut into the deficit by a small margin,” reads Calhoun’s plan. “This is the first time the deficit in Calhoun County has not demonstrated growth since 2010.”
The county could have substantially reduced the deficit had it not had to pay several legal fees, according to the plan.
Board members also announced Thursday they plan to call a special meeting to discuss a request from the Nicholas County Board of Education to consolidate five schools into a single campus near Summersville using money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The schools the county wants to consolidate are Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle, all of which closed and relocated students following the June 2016 floods, and Nicholas County High and the Nicholas vocational education center, which weren’t shuttered by the flood.
“It’s been very clear to me that this is an opportunity we don’t want to allow to be squandered for Nicholas County as state board members,” said state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine. “They have access to some federal funds which can build state-of-the-art facilities for all their children in Nicholas County Schools.”
Paine said he had reviewed closure documents the Nicholas board submitted and would provide a summary of the information at the special meeting. A date for that meeting was not announced, but it will likely happen before the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on June 14.
“I think the West Virginia state Board [of Education] is in the best position to deal with this issue. We have a full board of all confirmed members for the first time, I believe, in three years,” said board President Tom Campbell, participating in the meeting via a teleconference. “We have a state superintendent who is fully engaged, fully involved and fully informed. I think we’re in a good position and we need to move forward.”
A lawsuit against the Nicholas County board alleges board members broke the state’s open-meetings act by meeting outside of public board meetings. Nicholas Circuit Judge James J. Rowe must decide whether to grant the anti-consolidation side’s request for an injunction blocking the consolidation.
At a hearing last week, Rowe didn’t issue a ruling, but asked each side to submit proposed findings.