After meeting for hours, state school board postpones Boone decision

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

Audience members left the West Virginia Board of Education meeting Wednesday without knowing whether the board will take over Boone County’s school system and make the severe employee pay and benefits cuts that the state schools superintendent has twice ordered and Boone’s school board has twice refused to follow.

The meeting will continue 9 a.m. Thursday in the same place — Room 353 of Building 6 of the Capitol Complex in Charleston — and state school board President Mike Green said he expects the Boone issues will be taken up early.

The state Department of Education, which state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano leads and the state board oversees, still hasn’t approved a budget for Boone for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which technically started July 1.

Martirano’s ordered cuts would have included cutting thousands of dollars in pay for each employee and eliminating employer-paid vision and dental insurance coverage.

The education department has said the budget Boone had submitted for the 2016-17 fiscal year undershot and overshot expected revenue and expenses for various items, in some cases by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and would run out of money to fund expenses as early as April 2017.

Wednesday’s meeting started around 10 a.m., following an hour-long meeting among board members about the state’s upcoming A-F system to grade entire schools. There were about 60 audience members at 10 a.m., and there still were about 45 — almost all there for the Boone issues — around 3 p.m. when Green said the issue would be postponed.

Education department officials and the state board did discuss the issues publicly for about an hour and a half. Board member Tom Campbell, a certified public accountant, questioned department officials about Boone’s budget numbers, and said “a budget deals with estimations — an estimation is a personal opinion.”

Campbell has said he’s generally opposed to state takeovers, calling them ineffective, and had said Monday he wouldn’t support a takeover at this time unless there was a “drastic change in the information we have” before Wednesday’s meeting.

Fellow member Beverly Kingery, who noted she lived in Boone for 49 years, asked about the possibility of allowing Boone to continue operating with a “partially approved budget” through perhaps Sept. 30, thus giving a group of people with stakes in the issue time to work on a compromise.

During their presentations, education department officials noted the sudden, drastic property tax revenue drop that Boone education officials have blamed for their fiscal woes. But they also pointed out Boone’s spending of its reserve funds over the past few fiscal years.

Martirano said his department’s legal team vetted the orders he previously gave to Boone’s board, and department officials said they had exhausted all other options than personnel cuts to fix Boone’s budget. But Martirano said the department would come back Thursday with more information for board members.

Wednesday’s postponement came after a few union representatives asked for more time, and after some people alleged Martirano’s orders were illegal. Judy Goodson, a field staff member for the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said her education union was willing to fight in court for its members’ interests.

“The board has posed five to 10 questions,” Martirano said. “We are chronicling those questions now, providing the legal and statutory interpretation of all of those, so my goal is to give the board all the knowledge, all their legal standing, all their standing based upon the [state] statute to make the best decisions possible to assist Boone County.”

He said one of the questions to be explored is whether the education department can still give Boone’s school system state school aid funding formula money without a balanced budget. His interpretation is no, it can’t, but said there are differing opinions.

In a letter after the Boone board’s first refusal to follow his orders two weeks ago, Martirano mentioned withholding of state funding as a possible consequence if the Boone board didn’t approve a “fiscally sufficient” revised budget. He said Boone employees could miss paychecks as early as this month if that funding, first set to be sent out July 18, isn’t granted.

When asked what purpose this further exploration of options will serve considering his “full confidence that we have vetted this,” Martirano said “our board goes above and beyond in terms of due diligence in all their decision making.”

Also Wednesday, board members:

Reappointed Green for another year as board president, reappointed Lloyd Jackson for another year as vice president and appointed Kingery as board secretary to replace Tina Combs, whose term as a board member expires in November. Member Bill White, who accused his fellow members of a “back room deal” during the last nominations last July, said Wednesday he still disagrees with the nominating process and wants a nominating committee, but he made no alternative recommendations.

Put out for public comment a policy that would allow schools to stock intranasal administered naloxone, a drug that can save people from overdoses on heroin and other opiates.

OK’d a recommendation from the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission to allow in school sports schedules six “flex” days that board member Jim Wilson said could allow coaches to show off athletes’ skills to college recruiters.

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