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Board Expels MHS Student

By Staff | Nov 18, 2009

Sen. Larry Edgell and Del. Dave Pethtel meet with the Wetzel County Board of Education Monday to discuss ways to help alleviate the financial burden of unfunded debt placed on boards of education in West Virginia. (Photo by Bill Abraham)

A Magnolia High School student was expelled Monday for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year for the alleged possession of marijuana on school property Nov. 6, in violation of state and county codes of conduct and the West Virginia Safe Schools Act.

He became the first student this year to be so disciplined by the board of education, but Wetzel County Prosecutor Tim Haught said additional expulsion hearings are probable.

During the expulsion period, the student will continue to receive educational services, as required by state law, at an off-campus location.

Meanwhile, West Virginia State Sen. Larry Edgell and Del. Dave Pethtel joined the board in re-visiting the issue of unfunded debt for employee medical insurance benefits that threatens the solvency – and quite possibly, the very existence – of local school boards in the state. It is a complex issue.

This is the first year that the Wetzel County Board of Education, and most other county boards in West Virginia, has had to show that liability on its balance sheet since rules for reporting unfunded debt were changed three years ago by the West Virginia Department of Education.

Treasurer Jeff Lancaster said the county covered its liability of $152,690 for the 2008-09 school years by reducing carry over funds by an equivalent amount. However, he warned that the liability could grow to more than $1 million for the current year if the legislature does not appropriate funds to pay insurance benefits for employees authorized under the legislature’s school-aid formula.

Carry-over balances are budgeted but unspent money from one school year that is brought forward to a new school year. Among other uses, carry-over funds typically help pay salaries for county employees who are over the number authorized by the school-aid formula.

Earlier this year, the board of the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency voted to stop subsidizing medical insurance benefits for all teachers hired after next year, thereby transferring that debt to the individual employees.

That move drew quick opposition from boards of education and teacher unions, who said withdrawing the benefit would make attracting teachers to West Virginia even more difficult than it already is.

Edgell and Pethtel, both of whom are teachers, told board members not to expect a solution soon, although Pethtel noted that a task force appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin has been working for about eight weeks to develop a fix.

Pethtel also said that legislation on the agenda of a special session of the West Virginia Legislature would provide school systems with some relief for the 2010 fiscal year. Under that bill, the PEIA would charge school systems only a minimal amount for employees’ insurance coverage next year. That special session got underway today.

Both lawmakers agreed that the bill is not a long-term solution. They also agreed that the ultimate responsibility lies with the state, not the county. That was the official position of the Wetzel County Board of Education when it agreed earlier this year to join other boards of education in an intended lawsuit against the state, asking the courts to declare the liability a state responsibility.

Plaintiffs are awaiting a report from the governor’s task force before filing the suit, presumably in Kanawha Circuit Court. Edgell predicted that if such an action reaches the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the justices, who must stand for election, “will not rule against the counties.”