Boone budget cuts mean some students don’t have science books

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

The budget cuts that slashed Boone County public school employees’ pay and benefits this school year have also meant many Boone students don’t have science textbooks.

Boone Assistant Superintendent Lisa Beck said the public school system got rid of its over-a-decade-old science books around the end of last school year.

“In the end of May and the first of June we were not aware of our financial situation that was coming ahead of us,” she said. “We had full intent of purchasing the textbooks over the summer like we normally do.”

But as of now, she said only sixth, seventh and eighth grades have textbooks in their classes. The other grades don’t have personal books or classroom sets — unlike Kanawha County, Boone doesn’t give computers to students to take home and use to read books and complete assignments.
Beck said she hopes Boone will be able to still buy the books this school year if this fall’s tax revenues come in high.

By late February, Boone’s school board had already voted to close three elementary schools and cut 80 positions for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

The state Department of Education said it received Boone’s originally proposed budget for this fiscal year on May 31, and it determined that budget could’ve caused schools to run out of money as early as April 2017, ahead of the June 30, 2017 end of this fiscal year.

The state estimated Boone’s proposed budget would have increased a projected 2015-16 fiscal year ending deficit of $4.6 million by $1.7 million. Jeff Huffman, a former Boone assistant superintendent who became superintendent on July 1 following John Hudson’s departure to lead Putnam County, said budgeting mistakes had been made.

State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano ordered the Boone school board to make cuts.

Beck said Friday afternoon she didn’t know what happened to the old books, including whether they were recycled or resold, or how much money the school system received for them.

According to her, Boone had already gotten rid of them by the time the school system proposed to the department that it could save about $169,000 in textbook funds by delaying the purchase of new books — a savings reflected in state education department documents.

The proposal was part of Boone’s efforts to revise its budget enough for the department to approve it.

“While the county initially planned to adopt new science textbooks during [fiscal year 2016-17], that textbook adoption is not required since other resources may be used to ensure the appropriate content standards are taught to all students,” says the explanation of the $169,000 in savings on a department document showing an analysis of Boone’s proposed budget revisions.

The budget analysis document also indicates Boone officials told the department that, through not purchasing new textbooks for this school year and through a review of a previous funding plan, the school system could pay $445,000 worth of “educational supplies and other operational costs” with Step 7a funds.
Step 7a is one of the steps of the state school aid funding formula, intended for “the allowance for the improvement of instructional programs.”

The department OK’d the revised Boone budget on July 18, the day the Boone school board finally passed it, and also recommended to the state Board of Education in early August that members approve a state board policy waiver to allow Boone to delay purchasing the new books.

Schools statewide were supposed to purchase for this school year new instructional materials that align to the state’s new science education standards.

The new standards are the “performance expectations” from the Next Generation Science Standards national blueprint, save for the fact the state school board changed the word “rise” to “change” in the sixth-grade performance expectation “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.”

The state school board approved the waiver.

Deputy State Schools Superintendent Cindy Daniel said she didn’t know whether department officials knew Boone had gotten rid of its old books at the time when Boone suggested it could cut costs by not adopting new ones.

Regardless, she said, “We all felt comfortable in knowing that there would be other resources available.”

“A textbook is a tool,” Daniel said. “It is not the curriculum, it’s not the sole instructional resource, it’s one of many tools that a teacher has.”
When contacted by the Gazette-Mail about the issue, K.K. Matthews, science department head at Boone’s Scott High, said he’s taught physics and chemistry on and off since 2001. While he called textbooks “supplements” for education in his subjects, which are viewed as difficult, he also said they’re “vital for a student to have.”

“It’s nice for students to have resources, resources they can take home in case they’re struggling or need some extra help,” Matthews said. He said if teachers understood they weren’t going to get books, “We would probably not have boxed up our books for them to take.”

He said school principals, who can’t be blamed for the cuts, are supporting teachers. He said he believes students are doing well regardless, noting about half his classes are hands-on activities and he has other resources available.

“I’ve taught for a long time so I have resources that most people don’t have,” Matthews said.

Beck said Boone has released Step 7 money — $7 per child per school — early this school year to science department heads to help them buy resources to make up for not having books. She also said most teachers should have teacher resource materials for the new textbooks.

She said there are many online resources for teachers to use nowadays, and said in the early elementary school grades there’s hardly any standalone science instruction time; it’s instead integrated with math and English language arts lessons.

“I do truly feel the standards can be taught and are being taught,” Beck said.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.