Barbour BOE struggling to balance budget

PHILIPPI – While the Barbour County Board of Education continues to struggle with its upcoming fiscal year budget, an opportunity to generate some additional revenue may present itself in the form of an oil and gas rights agreement.

CNX Gas Corp. is asking the BOE for oil and gas rights to a quarter of an acre of property it discovered was owned by the school board while researching properties in an area of interest. The 18-parcel lot, a property in Lilian, was deeded to the Board of Education in 1891 by Margaret and M.E. Trembly, officials said.

The oil and gas agreement could generate a bit of help for the BOE as it struggles to balance next year’s budget.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, BOE officials said the proposed cuts to the budget still are not enough, and decisions on how to balance the budget will have to be made. Superintendent Dr. Joe Super said he would make some recommendations to be addressed at future meetings.

Super said, even with all the potential cuts factored in, the budget is still $217,000 away from balancing.

“We are at a stalemate, as there is no money to take money away from,” Super said.

When asked Wednesday about the potential revenue that could be generated if an agreement is reached with CNX, Super said it was too early to speculate about how much could be gained.

“Until a final agreement is reached it would be premature to say what the revenue would be,” Super said. “Any money generated will go into the General Fund and will be used to help offset expenditures.”

Super said a contract for the lease of the parcel of property will be reviewed by a lawyer before it is presented to CNX and negotiations begin. While any extra money generated could help offset expenses, it doesn’t necessarily mean the funds will be enough to rectify the struggling budget.

“We’ve cut everything that we can, and we are very concerned that, what we have cut, that we can actually live within,” Super said.

Director of Finance Annette Hughart said that even with the proposed cuts, the budget will still be about $300,000 short. At a previous meeting, Hughart said the proposed budget officials have worked on so far has been cut to a point that makes her uncomfortable.

BOE President Bob Wilkins said the school board will consider trying to save money by cutting back its meetings, but he was concerned about the effectiveness of a school board that meets less than the current twice-a-month schedule.

“That’s the fun of doing budgets, it’s never easy for anybody,” Wilkins said.

The school board faced a decision last fall about whether or not to close two local elementary schools with low enrollment numbers, Volga-Century and Mount Vernon.

Closing the schools could have saved about $700,000 annually. Supporters of both the small schools rallied to save them. The BOE voted unanimously to keep the schools open.

“I’m sure when the vote was over, this led our community to believe that the fight was over,” Sherri Dennison, a supporter of Volga-Century Elementary School, said. “This is where I believe the community is wrong. We know our fight isn’t over, but we as parents and teachers of the school are not going to give up.”

Dennison asked the BOE to help make sure the school remains open. She said the school’s enrollment needs to be restored, and that many parents want to send their students to the school for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

“If we were to get our enrollment back at the school, I don’t feel that you would ever find a real reason to close our school,” Dennison said. “Naturally, when you take the lifeblood from something, it’s going to die. That’s what happened when our preschool and our kindergarten program was taken away from us.”

She presented 21 signed documents from parents who want their kids in pre-k and kindergarten programs at Volga-Century. Currently those two programs are not available at the elementary school. Twelve of those students, six for each program, are within the school zone.

Dennison said some parents will not send their children to preschool outside of their school zone. As a result, some of those children within the Volga-Century school zone do not get that jump start on their education, she told the BOE.

Board member Joanne McConnell asked Dennison to share the documents with the central office staff members. No decisions were made.

Board members also approved the final levy rates for the coming fiscal year. For class one properties, the rate is $19.40 per $100. The rate for class two properties is $38.80 per $100. The rate for class three and four properties is $77.60 per $100.