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WVEA President: Boone County should have more time to resolve school budget shortfall

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WVEA President: Boone County should have more time to resolve school budget shortfall
By Matt Maccaro, WV MetroNews

With a state takeover of the Boone County School system looming, WVEA President Dale Lee said he’d like to see more time allotted to work out what’s turned into a several-week long budget standoff between the county and state school boards.

The state board ruled last week that they would take over the district if a reasonable budget, including benefit cuts, wasn’t drafted by the end of the day Monday. Lee said that’s the wrong way to approach the situation.

“They just arbitrarily said, ‘you do it this way, or we take you over,” he said. “That’s no way to do business. That’s no way to run a system. When you get everyone at the table to figure it out, you’ll come up with a solution that will work.”

The WVDE recommended cuts would include reductions in supplemental salary and vision and dental insurance benefits along with other measures. But Lee said there are contracts that have been signed, and to violate them would be unethical.

“The contracts were entered into in good faith, and arbitrarily taking these benefits away–the optical, dental, everything away–without notice and without really any input from the employees is just wrong,” Lee said.

The WV Board of Education and state Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano has said the Boone school budget would run out sometime next spring, and therefore not cover the entirety of Fiscal Year ’17, which would be a violation of state law. The Boone School system was allocated over $2 million during the special session on the state budget by the legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Boone County’s coal severance revenue has been severely hurt by the downturn of coal, particularly the bankruptcy filing of Natural Alpha Resources. Lee was of the opinion that, much like the recent flooding, the situation was one out of the county’s control.

“It’s just like any disaster. We’re going to help with the floods, with the school’s affected by the floods. The state’s going to help with that,” he said. “There’s no difference in my eyes (between) that and the tragedy that’s happened in Boone County with the bankruptcies.”

Lee further argued that Boone County hasn’t sat idle in the face of the economic downturn, cutting more than 80 positions and closing three schools last year.

“It wasn’t like they were sitting there doing nothing. They had a plan. What they didn’t expect is another $9.4 or $9.5 million hit coming with Alpha.”

Lee wanted to see a deadline for a reasonable budget extended beyond Monday so all parties involved could come to the table and a compromise could be reached.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time. You can’t do it by Monday by no means,” he said. “But you can have a plan in place. Employees would say ‘we can take a little bit of cuts here; we can do this.’ But it should be a decision that they all make, not a decision coming from the top down from the state board of education. The state board’s proposal really just puts it all on the backs of the employees.”

The Boone County School board has twice unanimously voted down directives from the state board on various position, benefit and supplemental pay cuts.

The original approved budget was $7 million short, Martirano said. State board members said last Thursday the Boone board has left them no other choice.

“The State Board has no desire to intervene in Boone County,” said state Board of Education President Mike Green in a news release. “The Boone County Board of Education left the State Board with no other option but to intervene to provide a mechanism that allows for a full instructional term for our students and ensures sufficient funds to pay employees for the entire school year.”

The Boone County school system has lost more than $10 million in tax revenue from coal during the past year.