Wood County Schools prepare for reductions

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Schools has lost nearly $6 million in state funding during the past five years due to loss of enrollment, officials said Tuesday, which will likely lead to further reductions in staffing.

The information was presented to the Wood County Board of Education Tuesday evening by Human Resources Director Sean Francisco.

“To give you a historical perspective, some 35 years ago when I was a 6th-grade student at Fairplains (Elementary School), Wood County had more than 24,000 students,” he said. “Now that number is less than half.”

As of this week, the district has 12,503 students, Francisco said, which is already down about 170 students from the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, and down 330 students from the start of the 2016-17 school year.

“On average in the last five years, Wood County Schools has lost 50 students a quarter,” he said. “In five years, that’s $5,789,853, or almost $6 million, less in state funding.”

Less funding means fewer teachers and support personnel. Francisco said the district already has begun the process of reviewing the number of teachers employed versus the amount of state funding which will be available for the 2018-19 school year.

In recent years, the annual process has led to a series of transfers and a reduction-in-force, or RIF, where positions are eliminated.

Statutorily, the majority of the process takes place in April and May, but Francisco said officials will try to get information and notices to employees earlier.

In addition to the drop in student population, Francisco also warned the West Virginia Legislature has discussed adding an “efficient use standard” to the funding formula, which would take into consideration the total square footage of buildings being staffed versus the number of students being served. A similar bill was introduced last year but not passed, he said.

In recent years, Wood County Schools has been hesitant to close and consolidate schools. The board voted last year to not hold closure hearings for Waverly Elementary School, which was slated for consolidation with Williamstown Elementary School.

Wood County Schools has 35 buildings, and the new Williamstown-area elementary is expected to open in 2020.

Francisco said in some cases similar-sized school systems have more than a dozen less buildings than Wood County Schools.

“If you’re going to have that many buildings, you’re going to have to staff them,” even though the district may be funded at a lower rate, Francisco said.

Board President Lawrence Hasbargen said too many of the district’s buildings have too small a student population, yet require a full staff.

“You have to take a look at that. It’s a hard thing to do,” he said.

An efficient usage requirement is currently “not in effect. It may not go into effect,” Francisco said. “They are seriously talking about implementing that. It is something on the horizon we need to keep in mind.”

Superintendent John Flint was ill and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, with Assistant Superintendent Mike Fling filling in for him. Because of Flint’s absence, an update on the district’s $41 bond project was postponed until a later meeting.

Board member Jim Asbury also was absent Tuesday.

The remaining board members met in executive session for about 12 minutes Tuesday evening to discuss a “personnel issue.” No administrators were part of the closed door meeting and the board held no discussion nor took any action when it returned to open session.

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