FOSTER, W.Va. — The Boone County Board of Education voted to reject the directives from the W. Va. State Board of Education with a unanimous 5-0 vote. The vote was held at a special meeting Thursday, July 7 to a crowd of just over 150 educators and service staff.
Currently, the Boone County Board of Education does not have an approved budget for the 2016-2017 school year. The meeting opened with a presentation by the new Boone County Superintendent of Schools, Jeff Huffman, explaining everything that led up to the current situation.
Huffman said that, by law, every school system is required to have an approved budget by July 1. Huffman said that he didn’t feel any ill will towards State Superintendent, Dr. Michael Matirano, because his directives would have covered the deficient accrued during the 2015-2016 school year, provide a full instructional term for students for the 2016-2017 year and meet all payroll obligations for the employees.
“In all honesty, I know there’s been a lot of discussion, there’s been a lot of talk, there’s been a lot of things written, there’s been a lot of things reported and in a lot of instances there’s been a lot of blamed placed here and a lot of blame placed there,” Huffman said, “but in all honesty, Dr. Matirano had no choice but to send the budget back for review and revision.”
Huffman said after the State Board of Education rejected their original budget, he worked many hours with Amy Willard, the Executive Director of the Office of School Finance, to figure out what could be done.
“She and I communicated anywhere from 7 o’ clock in the morning until 8 at night while she was continuing to look and work with us to identify potential solutions,” Huffman said.
The revised directives that the Board voted on proposed cuts in a number of different areas. There was one major revision to this proposal, which provided cuts to extra-curricular programs, including cutting the Strings program entirely, reducing the budgets for scholastic competitions, such as Science Fairs, Social Studies Fairs and Math Field Day, reducing the budgets of the secondary schools bands and reducing the salaries of all coaches. This revision allowed the Boone County School System to remove the need to lay off 48 employees.
It also retained many of the cuts previously proposed, including reducing employee wages to the 1984 level, cutting vision and dental insurance for current employees, eliminating a number of administrative positons and reducing funds allocated to individual schools for copies.
Boone County Board of Education President, Mark Sumpter, said he can appreciate the gravity of the situation.
“We find ourselves in uncharted waters and anytime you see our taxes go from $22.6 million to $13.6 million, these are numbers that have not been seen in the state of W. Va. before.” said Sumpter.
After Huffman’s presentation, Sumpter expressed concerns that if they voted against this proposal, it was possible the State Board of Education could take over and enact these directives regardless of their decision.
“Probably a lot of people are saying, ‘Let the State takeover, let them run the place for a little while’ but believe me, this board has made plenty of hard decisions and tried our best. We’re all Boone County people,” Sumpter said.
While it was clear none of the board members supported the directives entirely, perhaps the strongest against them was the newest board member, Susan Pauley-Kimbler. Pauley-Kimbler asked a number of specific questions to Superintendent Huffman about the budget and was worried educators would be accepting the bulk of the cuts.
“When we look at this, as a former teacher, it looks like a lot of this is coming off the backs of teachers,” Pauley-Kimbler said.
When the Board of Education voted against the directives, the Board received a standing ovation from those in attendance. It is currently unknown what will happen at this time, but the State Board of Education has advised that they could withhold state aid and possibly intervene. The State Board of Education next meets on July 13 at 10 a.m. in Capitol Building 6, Charleston.