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Boone County School Board votes to increase employees paychecks

(WSAZ)
Published: Jul. 18, 2016 at 1:40 PM EDT
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UPDATE: 2/5/18@10 p.m.

(WSAZ) -- In Boone County, school employees are going to see a little of the money that was taken away during the county's budget crisis in 2016 back in their paychecks.

Superintendent Jeff Huffman says that school board member voted Monday night to give employees a salary supplement of $1,150.

They will notice the extra money in their paychecks come July.

"The board has made some difficult decisions during the past couple of years that reduced expenditures and allows it to restore a portion of the county supplement that was taken away July 2016." Huffman told WSAZ.

Money from the county's excess levy will fund the increase.

In 2016 the Boone County Schools were facing a $2m budget deficit. At the time employees took a pay cut of on-average $4,000.

ORIGINAL STORY 7/18/16

Hundreds of people attended the Boone County Board of Education meeting on Monday as the board approved a balance budget.

Boone County is facing a nearly $2 million budget gap. Last week the West Virginia State Board of Education voted to take over the school system unless the school system passed a balanced budget by 11:59 p.m. Monday.

During Monday's meeting, the board discussed all of its options and took time to hear from the community. The superintendent also made several recommendations on how to save the county money, but they didn’t include job cuts. He says the recommendations were given to the county by the state board of education because they couldn't find any other alternative.

Superintendent Jeffrey Huffman told the group the school system is in a financial crisis. He says during the years money has been spent building renovations, new technology equipment and updates and classroom additions.

However, according to Huffman, 86 percent of the school's budget is the cost of personnel.

Huffman says already this year Boone County has not paid $1.6 million of its bills. At this point, he says the water company and county food service providers have threatened to cut services to the schools.

Also, the county lost $9 million in severance taxes last year due to the struggling coal industry.

That’s why he says cuts are necessary.

The superintendent made several recommendations to address the budget issues, and one of the biggest was pay cuts. Under the new budget proposal that was passed, Huffman says employees of Boone County Schools will have their pay cut by $4,000 a year on average. Huffman says that's about $175 a pay check. Huffman says the pay cuts will begin this school year.

The others included eliminating optical and dental insurance, eliminating employee contract days beyond 200, and altering or eliminating extra curricular contracts to reduce expenses. He also wants to eliminate all schools trips, reduce library funds and cut back on funding to musical programs.

"I apologize to our students who are going to see reduced programming and that are going to be in an environment where out school employees are going to be paid some of the lowest salaries in the country," Jeff Nelson, the principal at Boone County Vocational School, said.

Huffman says all of these cuts would save the county $5 million.

"I think the pay cut will be the deciding factor that fails our students because people are going to go to the surrounding counties to make now thousands more than us," Dawn Keith, a 5th grade teacher in Boone County, said.

Eliminating jobs was not part of the recommendation, but last week the state board of education said there was 48 more teachers than recommended for the county.

School board members say job cuts could be possible in the future.

The board passed the budget 5-0.

"I think the board made a decision that they had to make in the best interest of the school system. Obviously there was not a good choice," Boone County Superintendent Jeff Huffman said.

West Virginia Board of Education President Mike Green said he commends "the Boone County Board of Education and its Superintendent, Jeff Huffman, for making extremely difficult decisions that were caused, in large part, by factors beyond its control."

"The action taken today by the Boone County Board of Education to approve a sufficient budget for fiscal year 2017 has averted an intervention by the State Board of Education. The budget has been reviewed by the Office of School Finance and been deemed accurate and fiscally sufficient. The budget approved today upholds Boone County Board’s responsibility to ensure a full instructional term for students and ensures sufficient funds to pay employees for the entire school year," Green said.

Green went one to say he "empathizes with the employees of Boone County who must bear the burden of this unprecedented financial distress."

The board met again Monday night to work on the budget. The board has until Friday to submit its proposal to the state board of education.

Courtney Green is a parent of two children at Madison Elementary. She's also the vice president of their PTO.

She says she prefers the budget the board decided on Monday to cutting more teachers, but she worries teachers will try to find higher-paying jobs elsewhere. She's also concerned what the cuts in extracurricular activities will mean for her children.

"I want to stay, but if we don't have anything for them, we're going to have to leave," Courtney said.

The Boone County school board president says it'll take about a month before these changes go into effect.

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