Teacher retirements, enrollment drop affect Kanawha schools budget

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Teacher retirements, enrollment drop affect Kanawha schools budget
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette

The lowest student enrollment in at least two decades and the continuing retirement of experienced teachers will drop state funding for Kanawha County’s next school year by more than $3.4 million.

Next month, the Kanawha school board is expected to approve a $236.1 million 2015-16 school year general budget, and met about the issue Tuesday. Unrestricted state funding is projected to drop from $133.9 million this school year to $130.5 million.

“The two big drivers for our budget will be the level of experience our folks hold and what enrollment does,” treasurer Lisa Wilcox said.

She said state funding is based on enrollment and teachers’ actual salaries. So when headcount drops and older teachers — who are paid more based on their seniority — retire and are replaced with younger ones, the state reduces its contribution used to fund those salaries.

“That’s a reduction in revenue, so we have to watch our spending and cut back,” Superintendent Ron Duerring said of the enrollment drop.

The number of educator and school service worker positions the state funds is based on enrollment. Kanawha will receive state money for about 16 fewer positions for the next school year, though Wilcox didn’t know whether the number of positions would actually decrease by that much or whether the county will dip more into local funding to pay for maintaining employees.

School officials also did not have information immediately available Tuesday afternoon on the number of teachers who have said they will retire before next school year.

The enrollment for this school year — which the state uses to determine how much money Kanawha will receive next school year — was at 27,936.

That’s a drop of 442 students from the previous school year, and the highest loss since the 634-student drop between the 2000-01 school year and the 2001-02 school year, according to information from the school district. District enrollment has been dropping since 2006-07, when it stood at 28,104.

About half of the enrollment decrease between last school year and this one came from a 251-student drop in the prekindergarten and kindergarten grades, meaning the lower headcount will likely persist as this smaller group of young students progresses through elementary, middle and high schools.

Duerring said the drop could be temporary, or residents may be having fewer children and the decrease could continue.

“We just need to be watching for what the trend is,” Duerring said, though he noted projections can be thrown off by unanticipated factors like plant closures, which can cause families to move out of state.

Recently released U.S. Census figures showed West Virginia lost population faster than any other state last year — Kanawha lost nearly 1,200 residents, the most in the state, but remains the largest West Virginia county by a wide margin.

The 2015-16 budget regardless includes $2.9 million for the first across-the-board local pay raises for professional educators and service workers in about a decade. If approved, educators, like teachers and principals, would get a 2 percent raise, and service workers, like cooks and bus drivers, would get a 1 percent raise.

Wilcox said that will be made up for by possible staff reductions and other cost cuts, including the elimination of employee contracts for extra maintenance work during the summers. She said the district spent $300,000 on such contracts in the summer before this school year began.

There’s also budgeted almost $418,000 for the continuation of pay increases to middle- and high-school principals and assistant principals, meant to compensate for hours that Duerring said school leaders are already required to work supervising certain games and tournaments. In December, the board approved raises for this semester only.

On a yearly basis, the raises would be worth about $11,700 for high school principals, $7,900 for middle school principals, $6,300 for high school assistant principals and $4,600 for middle school assistant principals.