Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 15, 2013

Official: Monroe schools working to reduce system’s ‘critical’ deficit

KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

UNION — School officials in Monroe County say they are working to erase a $1.5 million deficit.

Monroe County is one of eight school systems working with state education officials to reduce spending. Superintendent Joetta Basile said the school system is facing a $1.5 million deficit.

 “Our biggest issue that caused us to get into the deficit was increasing personnel and declining enrollment,” she said. “The number of personnel the school system funds is based on enrollment. This is my first year as superintendent, and we were still over on personnel when I started. We have made cuts, put limits on overtime and asked schools to cover a lot of costs the school system has covered to help balance the budget. We have placed limits on travel to training sessions, are doing webinars to cut down on costs. We are also negotiating with bus drivers to reimburse them for costs to save money. We are also doing a lot more dual enrollment courses to get more students back into the county schools.”

Monroe County Board of Education President Danny Lively said the school system has been working for the past two years to get their budget in line with state recommendations.

“We are not under any control of the state, but the state has made recommendations to help us out and made suggestions of items we can do to get everything back on track,” Lively said. “We are funded from the state education formula and we have had to make a lot of necessary cuts there to help get us back on track and we have done so. We have been dealing with this for about two years now.”

In order to rein in finances, Lively said the school system has eliminated staffing positions and decreased funding to classes not within state-mandated core-curriculum.

“The biggest recommendation was to simply get our staffing within the guidelines of the state formula,” Lively said. “We have very diligently been working on that for two years. Personnel funding is one of the major areas that impact any budget, no matter what county you are in. We have tried to maintain all the appropriate and necessary curriculum as possible. There are some classes that have seen funding decreased, but funding for core curriculum has been maintained.”

Basile said job loss, the economy and declining enrollment have been the biggest factors impacting the budget.

“It did not happen overnight,” she said. “Enrollment started declining in 2007, and personnel continued to increase until 2010. We actually went into the deficit at the end of 2010. We are just such a rural county. Unfortunately, people are going elsewhere to find jobs and the economy hasn’t helped. BF Goodrich and Celanese are the two biggest employers in the county, and both have seen losses. You can’t attribute it to one thing. The economy has been a lot of the problem.”

Despite budgetary concerns, Basile said the school system is not looking to close or consolidate any of the five schools in the county.

“We won’t be closing or consolidating schools,” she said. “We only have four schools and the technical center, so that is not being considered. The school board has taken this very seriously. I have made recommendations for cuts and they have upheld them all. They understand what a crunch we are in and have made those decisions to get us out of this deficit. If enrollment stays steady, we should be able to come out of this by the end of 2014.”

Lively also said he is hoping to see the school system’s deficit eradicated by the end of 2014.

“After this current year, we should have personnel equal to the state formula recommendations,” he said. “We have made major changes in the positive direction to get out from under this deficit. We are already seeing some improvement and by the end of next year are hoping to be at or very close to the state recommendations. We would like to see state formula aid adjusted and allow more funding for counties statewide. It is a difficult situation all around. We are seeing the light of the end of the tunnel.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com