Boone County School Board, WVDE at odds over budget for FY ’17

FOSTER, W.Va. — The Boone County School Board rejected a directive from the state Department of Education Thursday to make several budget cuts for Fiscal Year 2017.

The proposal included about 35 layoffs, as well as pay and benefit cuts that the WVDE said would make the struggling school system’s budget more realistic for the new fiscal year, which begins Friday.

Executive Director of Communication with the WVDE Kristin Anderson said the school board had the right to reject the directive, but the district is still living outside of its means.

“Unfortunately, the action taken today by the board does not eliminate the outstanding issue, which is that Boone County does not have a sufficient budget to allow them to continue operations for the entirety of the Fiscal Year ’17 school year,” she said.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to reject the directive, which also recommended a reduction of both vision and dental benefits for current employees.

“Boone County sponsors an employer paid plan for both current employees and retirees,” said Executive Director of the Office of School Finance Amy Willard. “There’s nothing in their excess levy call that requires them to do that for their current employees, so we directed them to cut that benefit.”

Willard also insisted that the county’s current plan simply didn’t allow it to operate for the entire fiscal year. During the recent special legislative session, Boone County was allocated over $2 million in emergency funding from the state legislature to meet payroll for the 2015-2016 school year.

“This is truly is an unprecedented financial situation that I think is worse than most people anticipated honestly,” Anderson said. “We’ve worked closely with Boone County throughout the last several months, we’ve left no stone unturned to try to identify reductions and find a way towards a sufficient budget.”

Boone Superintendent John Hudson leaves the position Friday to take over the same role in Putnam County. Anderson said that the WVDE would be working with Hudson’s successor, Jeff Huffman, to try and fix the issue, with written guidance outlined by the end of the day Friday.

Anderson also explained the specifics of the recommended salary reduction under the rejected directive.

“The reduction salary supplement for professional staff will be between $3,800 and $4,000 per employee,” she said. “For service personnel it would be between $3,650 and $3,850.”

Boone County has been particularly hit hard by the downturn of the coal industry. It has lost $9.3 million in property tax revenue in recent months, mostly due to the bankruptcy filing of Alpha Natural Resources, which owns several large mining operations in the county.

“It all came down to a cash flow issue. The county was not going to have enough cash flow to pay their employees and operate the school system for the entire fiscal year,” Willard said.

State Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano issued a statement Thursday saying that he could not accept Boone County Schools’ budget.

“While I empathize with the situation Boone County is facing, this set of circumstances is unprecedented and leaves me with no other option but to consider the directives our staff has outlined. Aside from the directives outlined, Boone County has no other form of relief to meet its budget obligations for the upcoming fiscal year,” part of his letter read.

The county school board passed the budget on May 16 before submitting it for approval from the state Department of Education.

Boone County was forced to close three schools last year.

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