Boone County schools might ax nearly 80 jobs

By Ryan Quinn, Education Reporter

The Boone County Schools superintendent is recommending that the school board cut about 77 positions, a move he said is necessary because of declining tax revenue and dropping enrollment.

“You hate that this is occurring,” John Hudson said, “but some things you cannot control.”

Hudson said the board will vote on the issue before March 1, and the cuts to the roughly 660-person school system workforce would take effect the next academic year. He said 60 of those positions are for either teachers or administrators. About 50 people in that “professional educators” category will be normal employees laid off from the school system, while the other 10 positions are filled with substitutes.

Hudson declined to specify how many of those 60 positions are for administrators, saying the one or more leaders whose positions will be recommended for elimination haven’t yet been personally contacted. He said the number of administrators is so small the public might be able to predict which officials are being cut.

The 17 other positions Hudson is recommending cutting belong to service employees, a designation that includes cooks and bus drivers. He said the teachers and service employees affected fill various roles and that no single academic subject is seeing a significantly larger amount of cuts than others.

The actual impact of such reductions in force affects more workers than just those people who lose their school system jobs altogether. Teachers with more years of experience who lose their positions are allowed by state law to take the positions of certain educators with fewer years, a domino effect that perhaps puts them out of jobs instead.

Jerry Pcholinksy, head of the Boone County arm of the West Virginia Education Association, said the school system will hopefully — through retirements, people leaving the area and other factors — be able to find jobs for most of the employees who are losing their positions. He said his union is working to ensure members’ rights are protected but, with the coal industry’s decline, he doesn’t see much that can be done.

“Everybody is just waiting and dreading the call to come to the office and have a conference,” said Pcholinksy, a speech language pathologist serving the Sherman area.

He said seniority is likely the fairest way to decide who loses his or her job, and he added that the situation hurts younger teachers more than others.

“How are we going to replace these younger teachers, once things get better?” he asked. “It’s not a good situation all over the state, and we’re trying to attract quality teachers.”

Hudson said the school system is, pending the West Virginia Board of Education’s approval, planning to close three elementary schools before the start of next school year, a move that’s expected to save the school system’s roughly $48 million operating budget $1.8 million annually in utilities, personnel and other costs.

Also, he said, the transition from a four-period daily schedule in middle and high schools to an eight-period schedule next school year will allow for some positions to be eliminated while simultaneously providing year-round math and English instruction.

He said this school year’s second-month enrollment, a measure used to calculate state funding, was 4,331, down 268 students from two years ago. He said only six West Virginia counties lost a higher percentage of students from last school year to this one. Meanwhile, he said, live births in Boone dropped from 370 in 2000 to 239 last year.

When Boone students returned from winter break, enrollment had dropped another 45 students. He speculated that most of the lost pupils are connected to families moving elsewhere because of the continuing downturn in coal revenue. That revenue once allowed Boone to hire as many as 100 more employees than what the state government paid for.

Bonita Jarrell, chief tax deputy in the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, has said 2015 property tax collections for local schools from July 15 to Sept. 30 were about $5.7 million, compared to $10.3 million for the same period last year. She said July 15 is the county’s start of tax collections, and Oct. 1 is when those who haven’t paid face penalties.

“I work closely with a lot of these people, and I feel for them,” Pcholinksy said, “but it is what it is. Those are the cards we were dealt with, those are the ones we will have to play with.”

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