Kanawha schools dropping 90 positions

By Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer

Kanawha County’s school system is planning for about 90 fewer positions next fiscal year because of a projected $2.3 million revenue drop — although officials say those position cuts won’t equal nearly that many actual layoffs.

Treasurer Lisa Wilcox cautioned that the proposed $233.8 million 2016-17 budget, which the school board plans to approve late next month ahead of the July 1 start of the fiscal year, could still change, based on what the West Virginia Legislature and governor approve for the 2016-17 state budget.

“We may end up having to really, seriously rework our budgets,” Wilcox said. “Not just me, but all counties.”

Kanawha County Schools’ proposed budget already has seen $3 million in increased revenue projections since it was revealed March 8. Wilcox said there wasn’t suddenly that much more unrestricted money available: the change was because of the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board voting on March 30 to — with lawmakers still not having passed a budget to provide more funding to the public health insurance system — significantly change employees’ coverage.

That forced Kanawha’s preliminary budget to add $3 million in expected extra PEIA revenue to cover extra PEIA expense.

Kim Olsen, Kanawha County Schools’ human resources specialist for the “professional” employees category, which includes teachers, said there are 52 teacher position cuts planned for next school year.

But she said those cuts have led to only two Garnet Career Center teachers altogether losing guaranteed jobs next school year, along with two other teachers in the county losing guaranteed jobs because two more Garnet teachers whose positions are on the chopping block are planning to take their positions.

State law is requiring the school system to make most personnel decisions before the school board passes the budget for next fiscal year.

Teachers with more years of experience who lose their positions are allowed by state law to take the positions of educators with fewer years.

Tabetha Gillespie, H.R. specialist for the “service” employees, which includes custodians and classroom aides, said plans are to cut 36 positions in her category: 17 aides, nine cooks, three maintenance workers, three mechanics, one computer operator, one services coordinator and one full-day secretary, plus one full-day secretary cut to half-time and one full-day custodian cut to half-time.

Gillespie said that’s resulted in about 20 people losing guaranteed jobs for next school year.

Kanawha schools Superintendent Ron Duerring said the position cuts won’t cause an increase in the student-faculty ratio. Much of the budget revenue decrease is because of a 590-student drop from last school year to this one.

The state uses the current school year’s enrollment numbers to calculate per-pupil funding for next school year, and that funding formula automatically decreases dollars for counties that lose enrollment, save for exceptions in those counties that already have fewer than 1,400 students.

Because of numerous annual retirements among their aging workforces, West Virginia school systems often can cut many positions each year without completely knocking current employees out of jobs. Workers might still be forced to transfer into positions they don’t want if their own positions are cut or if more experienced employees want their jobs.

Because not all current workers have announced whether they will resign or retire at the end of this school year, it’s possible some of the employees who don’t have guaranteed jobs next school year will be offered them.

The 52 teacher position cuts and 36 service personnel position cuts also don’t include the temporary itinerant regular employee positions that technically expire at the end of each school year. School system H.R. Director Carol Hamric said these TIRE positions aren’t specifically planned in the budget.

Instead, she said, they’re added after the school year begins, in areas where there are unexpected influxes of students requiring more workers. These positions, therefore, provide more possibilities for those workers who currently are not guaranteed a job next school year.

The preliminary budget includes $2.7 million less for wages and benefits because of the planned position reductions, retirement of more experienced teachers and a $1.1 million decrease in the substitute teacher budget that the school system hopes to offset with carryover money from this fiscal year.

The school system is required to pay higher salaries to teachers with more years of experience and higher degrees.

Repair and maintenance expects to see a $300,000 cut. Wilcox said that area could use as much money as it can get, but the cut was necessary.

Other planned cuts include a halving of the $60,000 that Elementary Education Executive Director Bob Calhoun said went this school year to the Socrates program, which funds Prestera psychologists who meet with kids about every two weeks, or as-needed. Calhoun said children in the program, which served 50 kids this school year, have behavior issues for various reasons.

He said the cut will mean Socrates won’t be able to help as many children who don’t have health insurance, although he didn’t know how many fewer.

Duerring said there’s a planned $91,000 decrease in summer school funding because, historically, the school system hasn’t needed that much. Mark Milam, Kanawha’s assistant superintendent for high schools and career and technical centers, said the school system is adding Riverside High as a summer school testing site.

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