Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 16, 2013

Budget cuts School systems facing the knife


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— While Congress and President Barack Obama prepare for another potentially bitter fight — this time over raising the nation’s debt ceiling — fallout from the prolonged fiscal cliff battle is now impacting local school systems.

The apparent inability of Congress to fully resolve the fiscal cliff debate is prompting school officials in Mercer County to prepare for painful budget cuts. At this point, school officials believe they will lose approximately 8 percent in federal funding as a result of the fiscal cliff, along with possible state funding cuts as well.

Whether the school system will have to deal with a budget reduction depends on what happens next in Washington, according to local Board of Education President Greg Prudich. Without action by Congress, the local school system will be forced to reduce its operating budget.

“This is one of those really bad outcomes because Congress did not resolve the fiscal cliff,” Prudich said last week. “We don’t know what they’re going to do. We have to wait until they do it before we know what our budget is going to be. They don’t realize the consequences of their failure to act has on everything else. It’s not just education, it’s everything. It’s a nightmare.”

Prudich says the board of education will work to avoid cuts in personnel. If cuts ultimately have to be made in staffing, Prudich said such cuts will be the last to be determined.

“Let’s face it, that’s how our schools operate,” he said of teachers and support staff. “If you don’t have teachers and you don’t have service personnel, you can’t operate schools. That’s the cornerstone of education.”

Areas currently being looked at for possible funding cuts include purchases of supplies, utilities, limiting trips for sports and extracurricular activities to closer locations, and exploring more efficient school bus route options.

Superintendent Dr. Deborah Akers and Joy Hubbard, the board of education’s treasurer, are already looking for possible savings, and Akers is operating under the assumption that budget cuts are coming, Prudich says.

It is unfortunate to hear that the lack of action by Congress will have such a direct impact upon local school systems. However, it is prudent for school administrators to act now to prepare for any and all cuts that will be necessary to balance the school system’s budget.

While we realize that personnel does make up the biggest percentage of a school system’s operating budget, it is our hope, too, that cuts to personnel can be avoided.

Concerned parents, citizens and educators should call their lawmakers in Washington — and demand that they do what they were elected to do. And that includes addressing once and for all the contentious fiscal cliff and debt ceiling issues.