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WVSDB struggle for funding solutions after vetoes

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WVSDB struggle for funding solutions after vetoes
By Ashton Marra, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Lawmakers from the Eastern Panhandle tried two separate times to aid the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind during the 2015 legislative session. The schools are struggling to maintain their buildings, some of which are more than 100 years, and looked to the Legislature this year to begin to help them meet their facilities goals.

Those goals, contained in the schools' 10 year Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan, including closing and demolishing some buildings on campus to create a "stronger sense of community," according to Superintendent Dr. Lynn Boyer.

The plan includes updated housing for residential students, increased building security and the installation of fire and sprinkler systems suitable for deaf and hearing impaired and blind and visually impaired students and teachers. The plan, however, comes with a $42 million price tag.

Boyer and lawmakers attempted to jump start the process of obtaining funds with two pieces of legislation. The first, a supplemental appropriation, would have granted the schools one time dollars totaling $1.5 million.

“We had suggested that that amount of money would be useful to begin the consolidation of the secondary and elementary buildings for the deaf," Boyer said.

The second bill would have made the schools eligible for West Virginia School Building Authority dollars. That does not guarantee any funds, Boyer said, but would at least gives the schools access to the possibility.

Both bill passed both chambers with overwhelming support, but Gov. Tomblin refused to sign them.

“It was not expected that the governor would veto them," Boyer said. "So, that came as a surprise to all of us because support had been so universal.”

In his veto message for both bills, Tomblin wrote he did not feel the schools had a real plan to become financially viable in the future. Instead, Tomblin called on the West Virginia Board of Education to get an outside assessment of the schools.

Since, the governor’s office, state Department of Education, state Board of Education and Dr. Boyer have begun meeting, working to answer the governor’s questions about viability and looking for answers to their financial needs.

The group is still in the exploratory phases, Boyer said, but she called each meeting a step forward.

“There are not any obvious answers yet, but I think certainly in our conversations we keep getting clarity from each other," she said.

Possible funding sources include adding the schools to the state school aid formula, a calculation of state dollars granted to each school system on a per pupil basis. Boyer said those funds may also include special lottery revenues.

Boyer said the school also intends to hire a grant writer and is in the process of looking for private donations.