Upshur BOE eyes budget cuts

BUCKHANNON — Upshur County Schools will lose $160,000 in funding due to mid-year state budget cuts announced recently by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

With an $87 million shortfall looming on the horizon, Tomblin earlier this month announced a statewide cut of $11.1 million to state school aid, the largest funding source for K-12 schools. Kanawha County will bear the brunt of the cuts, with $1.1 million in lost funding.

The cuts in Upshur County, while not as severe, will no doubt have a negative impact on the school system, Superintendent Roy Wager said Wednesday.

“We’re not happy, obviously. We already have a very tight budget that’s in a mild deficit. This is not going to help us at all. It’s going to make it worse,” he said.

Having endured a similar cut last year, this year’s announcement wasn’t unexpected, Wager said.

“We do have some contingency plans on how we’re going to cover it. We kind of had a feeling it was going to happen,” Wager said. “It’s not going to hit us as bad as we thought, but it’s still bad enough.”

It’s severe enough that the the contingency plan will include cutting personnel and facility improvement projects, Wager said.

“We’re looking at a lot of different ways to cut. We’re going to have to cut personnel. We’ll be looking at any way to save money, which means we’ll be cutting back on construction projects in schools. Fortunately, our schools are in good shape, which is nice, but we will not be doing a lot of the summer improvement things we normally do.”

Cutting personnel is never the desired choice, but it cannot be avoided, Wager said. The state provides funding for teachers via a formula that establishes an allotment for each county. Any teachers hired outside of the formula must be paid directly by the county.

“We’re over the state-aid formula for teachers, as most counties are. We’re going to have to bring that down under control,” Wager said. “We hate that because we don’t want to hurt instruction and the services we provide to our students.”

Wager said he understands the state’s financial situation is in crisis. Officials are expecting a budget deficit next year in the range of $350 million. However, cutting education funding can have long-term negative effects on the economy because county school systems are tasked with educating the future workforce.

The cuts also are coming at an inopportune time. The state recently adopted an A-F letter grading system to evaluate schools. The majority of schools across the state scored a C average, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. Upshur County was no different, with all but two of the county’s schools receiving C’s. As a result, schools are scrambling to improve performance and there is a constant need for teachers and resources to help make that happen, Wager said.

“We still have to educate these children. We don’t have the resources to do it,” Wager said. “They’re going to get what they pay for.”

Upshur County has a five-year excess levy that raises approximately $3.3 million annually. With two years left on the levy, the school system already is hoping to renew the year after next, Wager said. The situation would be much worse if not for the taxpayer-funded levy, he said.

“We will be looking to renew that. We’ve been successful in the past. Last time, it passed by the widest margin it ever has,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have the support of our community.”

Ted Boettner is executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. He said the mid-year cuts are only the beginning.

“Our budget gap next year is going to be in excess of $350 million. There is going to be a large debate on how to close that gap,” he said. “Businesses won’t invest in West Virginia if they don’t know whether the infrastructure is going to be maintained or that state schools will produce the workforce they need.”


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