Boone schools cutting back as year comes to end

By Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer

 

While Boone County’s school board has received attention in recent months for voting to close three elementary schools and cut 80 positions, these cost savings won’t take effect until next fiscal year, and the public school system must still make it through this fiscal year.

Boone is getting advanced funds from the state and putting off owed payments to companies for things like supplies through the June 30 end of this fiscal year.

“We’re looking at each invoice, each vendor, what we can pay, what we can’t pay, working with the vendors, deferring those payments so we can meet payroll,” said Charles Chapman, Boone’s treasurer/financial services director.

Chapman expects the county will need more advanced payments from the state around the start of the next fiscal year to pay workers over the summer. Though most school employees work about 10 months per school year, he said most opt to spread their paychecks over 12 months, and this summer pay equals about $5.4 million.

Boone schools Superintendent John Hudson, who stressed that no employee will miss a paycheck, said local officials expected a revenue drop of about $2.3 million from last fiscal year to this one, and it budgeted for $2.6 million less just to be safe. But he said the school system has seen a further $6.9 million less in property tax collections than anticipated, due largely to 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 the bankruptcy filings.

Joe Panetta, chief operations officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, said Boone would’ve received about $3.5 million more in state funding had the estimates of what Boone would’ve collected in property taxes been more accurate. The other half of the $6.9 million shortfall is the lower-than-anticipated property tax revenue from Boone’s excess levy — the local property tax rate increase Boone voters approved to provide additional support for their school system.

Panetta said the Legislature would have to vote to now provide that $3.5 million to Boone.

He said the State Budget Office has approved $1.5 million in advanced state payments that were supposed to be paid at later times this fiscal year. He said such advance payments are “not unusual,” and have been given in the past to school systems that were short on cash.

Hudson, the Boone superintendent, said schools are being told to try to save trash bags and conserve electricity in unused rooms, while school system central office departments, when using anything other than federal funds, are doing practically “zero spending on anything that would not impact employee or student safety.”

Scott High Principal Allen Halley said a student’s statement that hand sanitizer dispensers at the school purposefully aren’t being filled isn’t true, noting that with close to 700 students sometimes dispensers temporarily run out. He said that “everything that is dealing with hygiene and safety of the kids, we are taking care of.”

He did say non-restroom trash bags are generally being reused unless they contain food or liquid, and while gym lights used to be left on all day, they’re now staying off when students aren’t using the gym.

Scott High teacher Carrena Rouse, president of Boone’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers union, said it’s been a struggle and other counties are having similar issues. She said she doesn’t blame the county administrators, but rather state lawmakers who control the state budget.

“The students’ environment should be the last item that’s touched,” Rouse said. “… My administrators cannot spend what they don’t have.”

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