At the November 9 board of education meeting, board members and educators discussed the $1.3 million shortage in funding from the State Department of Education and made plans to try to remedy the issue.
Pocahontas County High School science teacher and West Virginia Education Association member Kathy White addressed the board with concerns about the shortage.
“When it came out, it really infuriated me because that’s eleven hundred dollars per kid they have taken away from our kids in this county,” White said. “I’ll be honest – every educator, every board member, every parent in this county ought to be outraged. They say it’s a miscalculation. They say they don’t have the money, but I’m going to tell you right now, if I do my taxes and I miscalculate my taxes, the IRS is not going to let me roll over and say, ‘oh, I made a mistake.’”
White asked the board what, if any, action it has taken to address the issue with the State Department.
“Are we going to lay down?” she asked. “Are we going to take this or are we going to go start knocking on people’s doors because we can’t take any more cuts to this county. Our county is cut to the bone and when they take one point three million away from us, that affects our kids.”
Board president Emery Grimes stated that board members recently attended a conference which included board members from around the state, members of the State Department of Education and State Superintendent Michael Martirano.
“We went to a School Board Association meeting on Saturday,” Grimes said. “They told us there that the formula was figured right, that the auditor was wrong. We have pursued it. We feel as bad about it as you do. We have talked to our attorney [Robert] Martin to see what we can do.”
Grimes added that if the board did decide to take legal recourse, it would take more than just Pocahontas County to make an impact. Pocahontas County was one of 36 counties to be underfunded over the past seven years.
The state department has declared that it will not take action to correct the mistake.
It will not provide extra funding to the counties which were underfunded and it will also not take back money from the counties which were overfunded.
“They said it was a legislative issue,” interim superintendent Terrence Beam said. “The legislature would have to take it up.”
Martin asked Grimes if the state explained why it thought the auditor made a mistake.
Grimes said the state department feels it followed WV Code Section 18-9A, known as the sparsity code which requires it to provide funding to counties according to the number of students enrolled in school.
“After you discussed it, you told me that Kanawha County has been shorted,” Martin replied. “I contacted some people in Kanawha County – I know the attorney for the school board in Kanawha County. I talked to him. He believes that, as I told you, it ought to be brought up in federal court and find out what’s going on – make them put up or shut up. If they made a mistake – you can’t walk in front of a federal judge and say ‘gee, I made a mistake.’ It doesn’t fly.”
Martin also contacted several law firms in Charleston in case the board did decide to take legal action against the State Department of Education. If the case is picked up by one of the firms, the lawyers would be in charge of “recruiting” other counties to become part of the suit.
“I also contacted the three best plaintiff firms in the state that take cases on contingent fees – just to run it by them if they would be interested in doing it on a contingent fee basis and all three of them are very interested,” Martin said. “One of the best law firms in the state will take it on and they’ll go sign up those other counties. We sign a contract with them to agree to give them thirty percent of whatever they recover, but the way I looked at it – one point three million, if we get eight hundred thousand or nine hundred thousand, it’s worth the reduction.”
White and several teachers in attendance said they are on board with whatever type of action the board decides to take.
“Let’s put that in action,” White said. “I don’t think we can stand still as a county. I think we have to stay after this and maybe little ol’ Pocahontas County isn’t going to do it on our own but we’ve got to step up. If nobody is going to take the lead, then maybe we do.
“Tell us what we can do,” she continued. “Do we need to contact our representatives? We can’t roll over and just let this go away. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I”m just saying, I’m turning to you as the leadership. You tell us what to do to help and we’ll do it. Let’s work together on this.”
Martin reiterated that all the board would have to do is sign with one of the plaintiff firms and they would take the reins of the investigation.
The board could not vote to make a decision because it was not a votable item on the agenda. Members of the board said they would revisit the discussion and keep the public up-to-date on any progress made.
White also addressed the board with concerns over the substitute budget.
“We’ve run over on our substitute accounts three years in a row,” she said. “This year it was cut by forty-four percent. We almost cut our substitute budget in half this year, yet, now we’re concerned because we’re running out of money. Well, if we ran over the last three years, the expectation is we’re going to run over that budget this year, but we’ve already cut it by almost half. At this point, what I want to know is what are we going to do with this if we run out of substitute funds?”
White said a lot of teachers are concerned about running out of funds to pay for substitutes because some of them have health issues or are in need of taking maternity leave.
While the board used $229,000 for substitutes last year, it only budgeted $115,000 this year.
The board said, regardless of where the money comes from, they will have funding for substitutes available. It borrowed from other funds in the past three years and will have to continue to do that in order to allow teachers to take time off.
The board urged staff to take off days only when necessary and to stop “abusing” leave time.
• Interim superintendent Terrence Beam reported that he and board president Emery Grimes traveled to Charleston November 9 to make the School Building Authority (SBA) presentation. He said the SBA will review all the projects presented and make its recommendations in December.
In professional management, the board approved the following:
• Employment of Allen Taylor as head girls basketball coach at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $500.
• Employment of Lori Warner as head boys basketball coach at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $500.
• Employment of David Lee Moore, Jr., as head boys basketball coach at Marlinton Middle School, effective for the 2015-2016 season, at a supplement of $500.
The next board meeting is Monday, November 30, at 7 p.m. at the board of education conference room.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org