The outlook is bleak.  One by one, counties around West Virginia are notifying teachers – and related service personnel – that they no longer have a job.

This is what we counted:

  • Boone County: 77 positions (60 teachers, 17 service personnel)
  • Cabell County: 61 positions
  • Kanawha County: 25 positions (four employees at the Garnet Career Center and 21 teacher aid positions within the district)
  • McDowell County: 30 positions (15 professionals including teachers and administrators)
  • Fayette County: 18 positions
  • Mingo County: 65 positions (including 20 teachers)

That’s a total of 276 positions eliminated.

A state budget shortfall and dwindling coal tax revenues have been blamed.

Boone County is at the heart of the coal mining region – good and bad news since the industry has historically supported the community and its residents, but no more.

Coal’s epic decline is literally touching classrooms there. School district officials have confirmed that in addition to the layoffs, three elementary schools will be closed.

That’s because tax revenues – again, primarily derived from coal mining – are down by about half, according to officials, who say they have dropped from more than $8 million to just about $4 million in the last year.

These are permanent cuts, thanks to the district’s rapidly declining enrollment that’s occurring as families that once depended on a coal-based economy leave for new homes and jobs.

McDowell, Fayette and Mingo Counties:

It’s a cycle that is being repeated in other communities, including McDowell County which has already been struggling with crippling unemployment rates, poverty and drug abuse.

A total of 30 positions – 15 professionals, including teachers and administrators, and the rest are service personnel – are now being cut and won’t be part of the new year when schools reopen for the fall.

District officials report the system is facing a $1.5 million cut in local and state funding.

Declining enrollment – about 100 student annually for the last four years – is tied to the loss of funding. Fayette schools are losing 18 positions, while Mingo County is cutting 65 jobs – including 20 teaching positions.

Cabell and Kanawha Counties:

Last month, the Cabell County Board of Education voted unanimously to approve 61 layoffs and 97 transfers for professional and service employees.

At that time, BOE members approved 48 reductions in force – or RIFs – and 83 transfers of professional staff, as well as 13 RIFs and 14 transfers of service personnel.

The changes stem from continued enrollment decline, as well as an expected loss of $2.6 million in state funding when the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Kanawha County will lay off 25 employees at the end of the current school year – including four employees at the Garnet Career Center, and 21 teacher aid positions within the district.

Giving up, however, is not an option.

It is an eerily familiar scenario to Boone County Education Association President Jerry Pcholinsky who grew up around the steel mills near Pittsburgh.

He still vividly recalls the downward cycle as jobs were lost, families forced to relocate and communities changed forever.

Now, it’s happening again to an area – and most especially, people – that Pcholinsky adopted as his own more than 30 years ago.

“Just being here and seeing the changes in the coal industry, you get to see and feel how it is when things change with mining. And for a lot of years, it was very, very good and money for our schools wasn’t nearly so much of a problem,” he said.

Mine layoffs in the entire region haven’t been a surprise as the industry continues to plummet, so educators were prepared for budget cuts.

Talking about and planning for layoffs is one thing—but seeing colleagues lose jobs, schools close and students move is a whole different story, he said.

“We have been planning and working together. We will still be here for the students and do our very best for them. But now that so much is really happening, it is devastating on a lot of levels,” Pcholinsky said.

“But don’t count us out. We’ll be here,” he said.

Featured photo via Eric Von Seggern/Shutterstock

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