Logan County School Board spent surplus, faces budget cuts

Hoppy’s Commentary
School systems across the state have been forced to belt-tighten because of the drop in tax collections stemming from the decline of the coal industry. The Logan County Board of Education is the latest to confront budget shortfalls that will force layoffs.

Tax revenue for Logan County schools have declined steadily over the last several, dropping from $23.4 million in 2015 to $20.5 million last year.

Board President Paul Hardesty, who took office in the middle of last year, believes the school system ignored the impacts of the slowdown and engaged in wasteful spending.

Hardesty made a PowerPoint presentation to the Board and the public last night documenting what he believes were missed opportunities for the school system to save money.

For example, Hardesty referenced a memo from Board Treasurer John Brennan to the Board on August 13, 2015 detailing how the county was rapidly spending down its reserves with everything from $5.4 million for a building addition and turf for an athletic field to $207,000 for an optional Junior ROTC program with no federal matching dollars.

“As you can see, it doesn’t take long to spend $10 million,” Brennan said in his memo.

In fact, in just three years the Logan County school system has spent nearly all of a $23 million dollar surplus, which Hardesty says was one of the highest cash reserves of any county school board in the state in 2014.

Hardesty says there were other warnings, like a December 2015 letter to county school systems from State Board of Education Chief Financial Officer Joseph Panetta advising boards to “strive to reduce expenditures.”

Logan County also received notice last June that the state tax division was writing off $4 million in uncollectible taxes due to bankruptcies that would result in a loss of $2.6 million to the county school system.

However, Hardesty maintains Logan County kept on hiring. He says since 2013, the county has gone from 27 positions more than the state school aid funding formula allows to approximately 90, even as enrollment has continued to decline and tax collections have dropped.

Meanwhile, questions continue to swirl about purchases by former Logan County School Superintendent Phyllis Doty, including items that turned up at a private wedding. “We can’t spend taxpayer dollars to subsidize a private wedding,” Hardesty said when the story surfaced last year.

​So now the school county board has to make real cuts. Hardesty proposes eliminating approximately 70 professional and service positions as well as the Junior ROTC program.

The planned JROTC cut has prompted considerable opposition, including Major Richard Ojeda who runs the program at Chapmanville Regional High School. Ojeda also happens to be a state Senator representing Logan County, so he has some clout. Also, students supporting JROTC have started a petition drive.

A number of Logan County students and parents are no doubt upset by the planned cuts, but Hardesty says the Board has no choice but to make tough decisions to balance the budget while hopefully bringing more transparency to the process.

“I’m going to run it by the book,” he said.

Steve Paine named W.Va. superintendent of schools — again

By Brad McElhinny in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the state Board of Education voted for Steve Paine to be the new superintendent of schools.

Paine was state superintendent during the Manchin administration from 2005-2011. He’s currently the interim superintendent in Wayne County.

Paine starts Monday at a salary of $230,000 a year.
Tom Campbell, the state school board president, said it worked out well that Paine is available right away because of the challenges the state is facing. The state’s public education system could be subject to significant budget cuts under a proposal by the Republican leaders in the state Legislature.

“Whatever they work out, getting that budget administered for the next fiscal year is going to be a challenge,” Campbell said after today’s state board meeting.

He replaces Michael Martirano, who had announced his departure for this summer but who instead will leave immediately. The board issued a public statement thanking Martirano for his service. Martirano has been superintendent since 2014.

“He was most gracious when I talked to him on the phone. We do thank him for his service and wish him well,” Campbell said.

The other candidates for the job were current state Chief Career Technical Education Officer Kathy D’Antoni and Jackson County Superintendent Blaine Hess. The three finalists were chosen from an original list of 12 applicants.

All three were interviewed today. Members of the state school board came out from an executive session about 4 p.m. and voted unanimously for Paine as their choice.

“They were all good candidates,” Campbell said. “We’re hopeful they’re all going to stay involved in the education system. The consensus the board came up with was at this time Dr. Paine is the best person for this job.

“Having had the position before, he does have a great deal of experience with the position and how to implement it.”

Paine joined the West Virginia Department of Education in 2003 as the deputy state superintendent of schools after serving as superintendent of Morgan County Schools. He has also served as principal, assistant principal, teacher and curriculum director in the Upshur and Harrison county school systems. Paine is the recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. Paine has an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership Studies, and an M.A. in Educational Administration. He also has a B.A. in Education.

“I am humbled to be appointed as the Superintendent of Schools and once again serve the students throughout West Virginia,” Paine stated in a release from the state Department of Education.

“I am committed to ensuring that our education system provides all children the opportunity for a world-class education and I look forward to working closely with the State Board, Governor Justice, our lawmakers and educators to prepare the students of the Mountain State to be successful in life.”

Gov. Jim Justice, who campaigned in part on doing away with the Smarter Balanced standardized test and the A-F school grading system that were products of Martirano’s time in office, has largely made over the state school board in a matter of weeks.

Early Wednesday evening, Justice named appointed Jeffrey D. Flanagan of Kanawha County and Frank Vitale of Monongalia County as the newest members of the board. In January, the governor announced the three new members all at once — longtime educators Miller Hall, Barbara Whitecotton, and Chuck Hatfield. In early February, Justice named educator Dave Perry of Fayette County to the board.

The presidents of West Virginia’s teachers unions, interviewed at the Capitol Rotunda, said they are enthusiastic about Paine’s return.

“We’ve worked with Steve in the past when he was superintendent before. We have a good relationship with him. We know he is favorable to the students, to the teachers who teach the students and all school employees,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

“We really believe he can work with the department, with the state board and with educators to move us forward.”

Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, had a similarly positive reaction.

“He is very teacher-friendly, cares tremendously about the kids of West Virginia,” Lee said. “I’m looking forward to him starting on Monday and moving the state forward. It’s time for all educators come together, united, and fight off some of the crazy things that are happening in public education.”

Lee said a top priority is to fight off possible cuts to the state’s K-12 education system.

“That would destroy public education in many of our counties,” he said. “We need to all unite and say enough is enough.”

Budget problems in Logan County schools could result in teacher, Junior ROTC cuts

By Alex Thomas in News
LOGAN, W.Va. — Seventy teachers may be cut from Logan County Schools, according to a proposal put forward Thursday by Logan County Board of Education president Paul Hardesty.

Tax revenue for Logan County schools has fallen from $23.4 million in 2015 to $20.5 million last year.

Hardesty said another problem the board is facing is problems related to overspending by the previous county board.

“Logan County [Schools] in 2014 had an unrestricted cash account balance of about $23 million,” he said. “Through capital outlay, excessive spending, overtime, many personnel service positions over formula, we just got to where we were spending more than we were taking in.”
“If we keep spending like we’re spending, for fiscal year 2017-2018, we’ll have a zero unrestricted balance.”

The next fiscal year’s budget will be around $90 million, according to Hardesty.

Since 2013, the county has gone from 27 positions more than the state school aid funding formula allows to around 90 currently. This is despite tax revenues and enrollments declining during that same period.

Hardesty, who became board president in July 2016, said the previous board continuously paid for projects that the previous board failed to fully make transparent.

“They did a capital project for a small grade school, put four classrooms in a small gymnasium,” he said. “Initially budgeted at $2.3 million, now at $4.2 million because they ran into construction problems.”

When the board went to the state School Building Authority for a new school in Chapmanville, the board put forward $6 million dollars while the agency put forward $6.5 million.

“Makes no sense to me,” Hardesty said.

Other purchases Hardesty mentioned included a $2 million purchase of energy-efficient lighting and fixtures.

Additionally, the board will lose $880,000 from the state aid formula because of declining student enrollment.

Another cut Hardesty proposed is eliminating the Junior ROTC program at Chapmanville Regional High School, Logan High School and Man High School.

Cadets spoke out against the proposal at Thursday’s meeting. The school system has more than 400 cadets across three schools.

The Chapman Regional High School JROTC is 50 percent funded by the school board. The programs at Logan High and Man High schools are fully funded by the body.

Hardesty said he wants to try to fund the program.

“We have to weigh as a board can we find a way to keep that program functionally, and we’re going to try to find a way to do that,” he said. “Are we putting a Band-Aid on a patient that needs a tourniquet? Absolutely, but for the sake of these kids, we’re going to give it every effort we can to try to find some dollars.”

The board will vote on next fiscal year’s budget April 6.

School superintendent finalists all from West Virginia

By MetroNews Staff in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three finalists for the job of state Superintendent of Schools will be interviewed Thursday in Charleston by the state Board of Education.

Former state state superintendent Steve Paine, current state Chief Career Technical Education Officer Kathy D’Antoni and Jackson County Superintendent Blaine Hess were chosen finalists from an original list of 12 applicants.

Paine was state superintendent during the Manchin administration from 2005-2011. He’s currently the interim superintendent in Wayne County. D’Antoni has led the redesign of the state’s career and technical schools while Hess has been recognized as one of the state county school superintendents in the state.

“Each of the three finalists has a history of strong leadership and commitment to education in West Virginia,” state School Board President Tom Campbell said in a news release. “As a Board, we hope to move quickly with our search process to identify a leader who will continue to improve teaching and learning on behalf of the more 270,000 West Virginia students.”

Closed door interviews begin at 9 a.m. Thursday and it’s possible the board may announce its choice by the end of the day.

Campbell told MetroNews last week he was a little disappointed only a dozen people applied for job but he said he understands.

“We (the state) have a huge budget deficit, a new board, a lot of challenges,” Campbell said. “Some people, depending on the stage in their career, aren’t really going to take that chance and you really can’t blame them.”

The board released the names of the finalists Wednesday morning. The person chosen will replace Dr. Michael Martirano who announced last year he’ll be returning to Maryland this June to be closer to family following the death of his wife.