By Bill Archer
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
State education officials are working with eight county school systems to erase deficits before the red ink creates larger problems.
Braxton, Calhoun, Mason, Monroe and Preston counties all have deficits that are considered as critical. Clay, Pendleton and Webster counties have deficits that are considered more “casual.”
The state Board of Education on Wednesday approved the counties’ plans to eliminate their deficits. The plans detail how the counties have reduced spending and how they will continue to save money, the Charleston Gazette reported.
“This is the number-one symptom of counties you have to take over. You’ve got to catch these things quickly because if you let them get out of control, get ready to take them over because this is where it starts,” board member Lloyd Jackson said.
Four other county school systems already are under state control.
The state is taking a more active role in helping counties with financial problems, providing assistance and monitoring their financial status. Monthly analyses will be performed by state officials who will provide recommendations about how to reduce spending, said Joe Panetta, superintendent of finance for the Department of Education.
“These are things we haven’t required in the past,” he said.
Counties with financial problems have a common problem. They have too many staff members on the payroll, Panetta said.
“There are patterns here that scare you — like local boards’ reluctance to take recommendations to cut personnel,” said state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares. “But, it’s a catch-22. It’s a difficult thing to do. It really takes a real taskmaster with a lot of attention.”
Board members agreed that frequent follow-up visits are crucial.