As Calhoun schools tackle deficit, workers protest

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Calhoun County school district’s deficit at the end of last fiscal year surpassed $1.8 million, exceeding one-fifth of its annual operating budget, but recent drastic efforts to reduce it have received opposition from employees.

Superintendent Tim Woodward, who joined the district in March, said that despite losing $350,000 annually in state funding over the past several years due to declining enrollment – Calhoun dropped from 1,137 students in 2011-12 to 1,066 this school year – the district hadn’t cut spending since 2005.

“I didn’t see any attempts to save costs – across the board,” Woodward said.

By reducing the number of annual days many employees are paid for, eliminating $600 yearly supplements all workers used to receive and other measures, Woodward said he’s put the district in a position to save $600,000 this fiscal year. He said the day reductions save $3,000-$6,000 in salary and benefits costs per employee.

But the superintendent said a union representing local school service personnel, like bus drivers and secretaries, has filed a grievance against the Calhoun school board over the cuts it approved, arguing the days were reduced after the proper period in which employee contracts are set.

The grievance is now at the final level before it can be appealed to the court system, but Woodward said he can’t blame the workers for filing it.

“They were trying to get their money back,” he said.

Joe Panetta, chief operations officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, spoke to the state school board Thursday about Calhoun and the three other counties – Clay, Grant and Randolph – that had unreserved fund balance deficits at the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year. The board unanimously approved the counties’ plans to get their balances out of the red.

“Wow, that’s scary,” board member Bill White said of the financial issues for Calhoun…

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