Boone school board may make more cuts

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

Boone County’s school board has called a special meeting for noon Thursday — the last day of this fiscal year — and may vote on state-directed cuts to its 2016-17 fiscal year budget, which the board already passed and takes effect Friday.

The state Department of Education has declined to comment on the issue until after the meeting. Boone schools Superintendent John Hudson said Wednesday morning that he hadn’t yet received the state directives.

“No one has told me specifically what those will be,” said Hudson, who is becoming Putnam County’s superintendent the day after the meeting.

The online notice for Thursday’s meeting states that, “upon information and belief,” State Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano will direct the board in writing before the special meeting “to make certain reductions to its proposed 2016-2017 budget as a condition to the approval of that budget.”

“Upon information and belief, the State Superintendent will require that the Boone County Board of Education take such action prior to July 1 or else the school district will not have an approved budget as of midnight on the evening of June 30,” the notice states.

Hudson said the school system posted the notice Tuesday afternoon.

When asked how there could still be a budget problem in Boone after the board voted months ago to close three elementary schools and cut 80 positions next year, Hudson said he didn’t know.

“I’ll be more prepared to [explain the issue] after we receive any directive that may be forthcoming from the state superintendent,” Hudson said.

Boone’s school board passed a budget for submission to the state on May 16. Hudson — who recently asked and received from state lawmakers and the governor about $2.2 million in extra funding to help pay employees on time through the end of this fiscal year — previously said he felt “pretty good” and “confident” about next fiscal year.

Joe Panetta, who recently retired as the education department’s chief operations officer, previously said state law requires school systems to submit their budgets to the department by the end of May. He said the department’s Office of School Finance reviews the budgets to ensure enough money is allocated for projected expenses, and the state schools superintendent gives final approval.

Following a state budget impasse among legislators and the governor, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin finally signed a 2016-17 state budget June 17 that laid out funding amounts for school systems.

In response to a reporter’s calls to Office of School Finance employees and her about what Martirano will direct Boone’s school board to do, department spokeswoman Kristin Anderson sent an email:

“Moving forward, please direct all media inquiries to me,” she wrote. “Also, Boone County has noticed a special meeting which will take place at noon on June 30, 2016. The West Virginia Department of Education will not make any comment concerning Boone County’s budget until the conclusion of that meeting.”

Boone school officials blamed their financial woes during the soon-ending fiscal year on what they called unexpected coal company bankruptcies.

Generally, the state school aid funding formula calculates — largely based on enrollment — how much money each county needs to provide what the state considers an adequate education to students.
Through this method, intended to more equally fund property-rich and property-poor counties, the state forecasts how much money a county will raise through its state-set regular levy property tax rates and then provides state general revenue dollars to make up any gap between the local revenue and what is needed to provide that basic education.

But the estimates of how much money Boone would raise in property tax revenue were made before coal company bankruptcy filings there.

Jeff Huffman, a Boone assistant superintendent who will become superintendent when Hudson’s contract ends this month, said the county assessor’s office estimated that tax collections would drop about $2.4 million from last fiscal year to this one. But near the start of June he said the drop had actually been about $9.3 million to date, and that unexpected $6.9 million loss represented 17 percent of the county’s operating budget.

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