After 'Bail Out' Claims, Boone Co. Superintendent Fighting for Funding Bill
When lawmakers return to Charleston Sunday, they won’t just be considering the budget bill. Members of both chambers will also consider another piece of legislation left floating when they left town on June 2.
House Bill 119, also known as Senate Bill 1010, was placed on the expanded special session call by Gov. Tomblin earlier this month. The bill looks to take a little more than $2 million from state reserves for the Boone County Board of Education.
The bill is a bail out—at least that’s what some members of the Legislature who oppose the measure are calling it, but Boone County Superintendent of Schools John Hudson told members of the West Virginia Board of Education Wednesday that couldn’t be further from the truth.
"I’m very proud of the efforts of Boone County Schools and our Board of Education to attack this sudden and unprecedented decline in taxes.”
That decline topped an unexpected $9 million this fiscal year, largely due to the bankruptcies of three major coal companies in the county. The loss of business meant a loss of tax dollars.
“The governor’s spokesperson says it’s unprecedented, the tax offices say it’s unprecedented, the Department of Education says it’s unprecedented," Hudson said, "and then people say well, you should have planned better. No one knew or we would have planned better.”
Hudson said as he and his school board watched revenues decline, they did react.
They cut more than $2 million in expenses, closed three elementary schools, laid off 80 teachers and service personnel, finding more than $6 million in savings, but it wasn’t enough.
The county still has a deficit and unless lawmakers step in and pass this bill, hundreds of Boone County teachers and service employees will not get paid on June 24.
“When we’re dealing with people’s financial future, we have a responsibility to make sure that that is taken care of. They have already earned that money," Jerry Pcholinsky, a speech pathologist in the Boone County School system and the president of the county’s education association, told members of the Boone County Board of Education at a Monday meeting.
Pcholinsky is not the only one standing up for his fellow teachers. An attorney representing the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia Chapter sent a letter to the county last week notifying them that if teachers were not paid according to their contracts, the union would pursue legal action.
County officials, including Hudson, speak daily with the state Department of Education about expenses and have even stopped paying other bills, but Amy Willard, the Executive Director of the Office of School Finance, said Wednesday the state department has "absolutely no authority" to help the county.
Willard is working with representatives of the Governor’s Office to make the language in the bill clear that it is not a bail out- requiring the county to pay back the funds as bankruptcy courts rule on the back taxes coal companies owe the county.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Charleston Sunday to continue debating a 2017 budget bill and possibly Boone County’s bill as well.