It’s really just simple math.
Reduced revenues plus fewer students equals increasingly hard times for West Virginia county school districts. As a result, school board officials are now notifying employees who may no longer have a job.
By our count, West Virginia will eliminate over 500 teachers and school service personnel this year.
The state government’s financial problems also don’t help the situation.
Educators are waiting to see what will happen since Gov. Jim Justice vetoed legislators’ budget proposal to address an estimated $500 million shortfall next year.
Some layoffs are inevitable, despite school officials’ best efforts to keep everyone. It’s a trend that began last year, and probably won’t end anytime soon.
This is what we counted so far:
- Raleigh County: 94 positions (42 teachers/professional, 52 service personnel)
- Kanawha County: 72 positions (47 teachers/administrators and 25 service personnel)
- Logan County: 70 positions (including teachers, other professional and service personnel)
- Wayne County: 85 positions (including teachers and service personnel)
- McDowell County: 48 positions
- Boone County: 58 positions
- Cabell County: 40 positions
- Nicholas County: 23 positions
- Fayette County: 22 positions (11 each teachers and service personnel)
- Randolph County: 12 positions
- Grant County: 23
That’s a total of 547 positions eliminated.
There’s a familiar story behind the layoffs, and it isn’t pretty anywhere. Educators know what’s causing their financial problems.
A dramatic drop in coal severance tax revenues means less money for every government. That also means fewer jobs, meaning fewer people and fewer students.
West Virginia saw a drop of nearly 4,000 students in state classrooms than the last school year.
Those smaller classrooms mean reduced funding; it’s a cycle that is being repeated across the state.
Raleigh, Logan, Kanawha and Fayette Counties:
Raleigh County Board of Education members have considered personnel recommendations that could impact as many as 94 positions. Decreased county, state and federal funding resulted in a nearly $9 million shortfall, including $1.1 million lost because the county lost 179 students in the last year.
It’s second only to Logan County—which has the highest budget deficit. Logan County schools may lose 70 employees due to declining enrollment and tax revenues, said Superintendent Patricia Lucas. She said the district has lost about 600 students in the last 4 to 5 years.
“This is always a difficult time of year for the people who get this news, but also for those of us having to make these really hard decisions,” she said.
“We simply can’t maintain positions outside of what the state school-aid formula allows, maybe a certain few that are required but certainly not the number where we were.”
“We actually were over by 104 positions but some of those are not within the school-aid formula but are required such as a school district treasurer and someone to be over school nutrition. When we looked at the positions and put those before the board there were 69 or 70 impacted including both professionals and service personnel. Some were terminations and some are transfers on the professional side.”
They include 15 teachers, six librarians, five assistant principals, four central office and 4.5 grant-funded positions.
Ten transportation aides for special-need students were abolished and the duties reassigned to other positions.
The board will no longer pay for 13 positions, such as ground keepers, for the county Parks and Recreation Commission.
Kanawha County Schools Communications Director Briana Warner said the numbers are still apt to change with any additional retirements or departures prior to July 1. Anyone who has been part of the reduction in force will be able to apply for open positions after that date.
Although there were originally 72 employees facing a layoff, the current reduction in force numbers are down to seven professionals (6 teachers, 1 counselor) and 25 service personnel.
There are also 21 adult education/vocational teaching positions “on notice” until it is determined whether federal funding will be available.
“These 21 positions were not included in the original 47 professional layoffs, but are an addition,” she said.
Last year there were two professionals laid off and they were both reemployed while 42 of the 43 laid off personnel staffers also got jobs in the school system.
Fayette County Schools Personnel Director Margaret Pennington is hopeful things will go the same way as last year. At that time all professional employees who were slated to be laid off were reemployed.
This year there are 11 professional and 11 service personnel looking at layoffs, but that may be averted due to attrition, retirements and the number of vacant positions.
“Several positions being cut are vacant, well they have a sub but they won’t impact a full-time employee for next school year.”
Cabell and Wayne Counties
Assistant Superintendent Todd Alexander said it’s anticipated there will be approximately 40 layoffs this coming year, but he’s hoping it will mirror last year when all of the laid off employees were back to work when school began.
There’s good news since the number of reductions in force is down from last year.
“With the number of retirements we are having we believe we will have everyone back on staff for the coming school year,” he said.
It’s still important to see if additional cuts will be coming to K-12 schools once a state budget is set.
“We have carry over money every year, and we believe we will have to dip into it to balance the budget this year. And if the legislature approves additional cuts that will have a local impact, so we anticipate during next year’s personnel season that we will really be making some cuts and additional tough decisions,” he said.
Officials anticipate having to “streamline quite a bit” next year unless revenues increase by then.
Nearly a decade of increasing student enrollment is also gone, but that changed last year when numbers began dropping. Nearly 200 additional students left the district this year, partially due to area industries hurt by coal’s decline.
“We saw about $90 million lost in industrial tax collection, and that really hurts.”
Wayne County Superintendent David Roach said officials are now looking at 85 reductions in force and transfers. On the professional side there are 50 reductions in force and 12 of those will be reposted so they will have jobs back.
“At this point it doesn’t mean there won’t be more positions available too, because some people wait until summer to decide if they are moving, so hopefully there will be additional jobs available. But we just can’t be sure now,” he said.
“Hopefully it will take us one more year where we want to be. By then, the professional side will be within the formula but service will still be over so we’ll have to do some more trimming. Not necessarily people but looking at everything to try and correct it to get somewhat closer to the formula, plus find some more ways to cut some money.
Loss of taxes, state aid and Medicaid collections amount to more than $2.4 million the county will not receive. Coal company closures and bankruptcies have cost the county $1.2 million and the trickle down effect from those closures are being blamed for the loss of 105 students between 2015 and 2016, the Herald-Dispatch reported.
It’s hard enough for Boone County Board of Education members to cut an additional 58 jobs this year because nearly 120 positions have already been eliminated in the past two years, according to media reports.
Financial woes are behind the job losses, and the situation isn’t getting better.
The district is on the state Department of Education’s “financial watch list” for being more than $500,000 behind in property tax collections compared to the previous year. At this rate, the district could be $1 million short for the upcoming fiscal year.
In July 2016, board members eventually adopted an austerity budget to avoid a state takeover of the county school system. It included salary pay cuts of between $3,650 to $4,000 for teachers, administrators, service workers, bus drivers and custodians.
There were also pay cuts for employees overseeing extracurricular activities such as athletics and academic contests. It eliminated employer-paid dental and vision coverage for both current employees and retirees.
These new cuts came on the heels of the county’s having to close three of its 10 elementary schools and eliminate 80 positions.
Coal was once the region’s major economic driver, but its collapse has left devastation in its wake. State figures show that the county lost nearly 3,200 coal mining jobs from 2011 to 2015. County coal production has dropped from nearly 21 million tons in 2011 to just over 7 million last year. School enrollment continues to decline as families leave in search of new jobs when mines close and companies go bankrupt.
An $8.5 million reserve fund has been drained, and the district ended last school year with a $4.6 million deficit which is the largest of any district in the state.
Teachers were only able to receive their summer checks last year after the state legislature approved $2.2 million of emergency funding during a special session in June.
After 32 years in education, Superintendent Nelson Spencer is no stranger to this process. Early in the process this year he predicted that 48 positions would have to be eliminated. He anticipated about 13 of those would be teachers and the rest service personnel.
He’s hoping it will work out as well as last year.
Most of the laid-off teachers had jobs by the time school started due to attrition and people transferring, but several service personnel weren’t as fortunate.
“I have a big issue with teacher retainment, so the ones that really wanted to stay typically had that chance in the professional ranks. Honestly it’s hard for any organization to when you have the rate of transition that we have,” he said.
It’s more difficult in education because children are developing relationships with teachers, only to have to say goodbye.
But it’s not easy for him or other staffers.
“Emotionally this is a very tough time because these are colleagues and friends. We are having to make hard decisions about people we really value, but at the same time we don’t have the funds to support their positions.”
Continuing to also lose student enrollment means things won’t be better anytime soon.
Enrollment for the current school year dropped by 124 students, and more than 500 students have been lost in the last five years.
“When you lose enrollment, you lose jobs.”
Nicholas and Randolph Counties
Nicholas County Schools is looking at 23 potential layoffs, while Randolph County is considering 12, according to media reports.