It appears as if the Wetzel County Board of Education will be making cuts in employees this year, mandated under the West Virginia Legislature's school aid funding formula.
Wetzel County BOE Treasurer Jeff Lancaster briefly explained the difficult facts to board members Tuesday night. The legislature's school aid funding formula is based on each county's student population. Wetzel County has consistently lost students in the past 30 years, more specifically enrollment has declined by 37 students since last year.
Lancaster explained that Wetzel County is ninth highest over the funding formula in service personnel and sixth highest over the funding formula in professional personnel. Specifically, Lancaster explained, Wetzel County is 16 professional personnel positions over and 21 service personnel positions over. In dollar amounts, Wetzel County is $1.6 million over the funding formula. If Wetzel County would choose to fund all of these positions, that would total $1.6 million the board would have to cut somewhere else; otherwise they would not have a balanced budget.
Board Member Carolyn Gatian, after looking at the report and graphs handed out by Lancaster, asked, "What does Kanawha County do?" She further pointed out that Kanawha County is 94 professional personnel over the formula and 143 service personnel over.
Lancaster explained that upon looking at the statistics, it's "not the end of the world," for Kanawha County, as they have other tax dollars coming in. "It's easier for them than us."
The board will need to make the tough decisions on specific Reductions In Force (RIFs) at a later board meeting. Often several of the personnel affected by the cuts are added back to the board's personnel through attrition and retirements.
In other board matters, Board Member Linda Kirk raised the question as to whether or not Wetzel County buses have a "crisis plan," regarding truck traffic and frequent wrecks.
Kirk stated that several calls had been placed by concerned parents regarding last week's incident that occurred on the morning of Jan. 9, when a drilling rig owned by Sun Energy Drilling went into the ditch from the northwest-bound lane of state Route 20 on the northwest side of Reader.
The incident caused some major transportation problems that afternoon. Wetzel County School Transportation Director Brian Jones had reported to the Chronicle last week that several buses, ones from Valley, Shortline, and special needs from New Martinsville, had to be re-routed.
At Tuesday's meeting, Kirk brought up the possible issue of parents' children being picked up by another bus when instructed to do so by bus drivers and the parents not being aware.
Jones stated that, unfortunately, there were no specific plans in place for these sort of incidents. Jones also reported that he had talked "to the industry" and "expressed dissatisfaction."
Last week Jones had said in a statement that, "The truck traffic, the industry, needs to be more considerate of our most precious commodity, our children. There's nothing more important than the safety of the students in Wetzel County."
Superintendent Diane Watt stated that she would look into the matter of bus drivers possibly having individual plans for such situations.
In another matter, Kirk also brought the board's attention to the fact that the grant funds for Valley High School's Prevention Resource Officer expire June 30. She stated that the county commission has stated that it would pay half of the funds if the board pays the other half.
Watt stated that she was aware of the situation and was actually planning on visiting VHS later on in the week to discuss the situation.
Vice President Bob Patterson added that the funds for the PRO officer at Magnolia, Steve Kastigar, also were set to expire soon