(09/30/2013)
By Bob Weaver

Declining student enrollment in West Virginia's public schools is taking a toll on county school budgets in the Mountain State, the West Virginia Department of Education saying 37 out of 55 counties lost students from 2008-2012.

West Virginia funds its school systems based on student population.

Calhoun Schools has lost about 625 students since the early 1990s, with an initiative adopted a few years ago to fund low enrollment counties at a higher rate apparently in partial default.

A dozen counties, including Calhoun, do not have an ongoing educational levy to fund the school system. Those systems are at even greater financial risk.

Districts are forced to consider what programs, electives and personnel to cut in order to stay out of the red.

Calhoun Schools was one of five state county systems targeted by the West Virginia Board of Education in February, 2013, as having major budget deficits.

Calhoun Superintendent of Schools Roger Propst said following a review of the county budget, it was discovered that the shortfall was actually $348,161, not the $558,000 deficit reported to the State Board.

The local deficit problem, beyond lower enrollment, appears to be an accounting problem.

Calhoun Schools is yet to respond to a request regarding a final deficit number.

County boards have until September 28th in which to submit their financial statements for 2013, at which time it will become public regarding how deficits have been resolved, according to Liza Cordeiro, Executive Director, Office of Communications, West Virginia Department of Education.

The loss in enrollment of 54 students resulted in Calhoun County needing to reduce professional staff by 3.78 positions for the 2013-14 school year.

This reduction, Propst said, has been achieved by not filling two vacancies created by retirements, and one 5th grade position not needed for 2013-14 because of fewer students at CM/HS.

An additional 1/2 time professional position at Pleasant Hill Elementary has been reduced by the RIF process. The remaining portion of a position will be funded by a grant, Propst said.

Propst said, "We have been working closely with the WVDE Office of School Finance in seeking technical assistance after the resignation of our chief school business official, and in getting our financial records corrected."

"The goal of both the West Virginia Board of Education and the WVDE is to not have any county boards incur deficit spending, but unfortunately as county boards strive to provide the resources to improve student performance they sometimes find that the resources they have available are not always adequate to cover necessary expenses," said Cordeiro.

Balancing a budget is important to county school systems, Cordeillo saying public officials can be held personally liable if it is determined they acted in a negligent manner, and criminally liable if it is determined they acted in a willful manner.

She indicated such circumstances are rare.

Cordeiro said actually eight county boards ended the year with a deficit.


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