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Gambling, property value declines affect Jefferson County schools

MIDDLEWAY, W.Va. — The Jefferson County Schools district is going to have to make some choices soon, said superintendent Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson, who at Thursday’s board retreat outlined some of the financial challenges being faced by board members.

For example, the district faces a $1 million shortfall – the difference between what’s needed for the budget versus what revenue is coming in -during the next school year, she said.

“There are several declining resources due to reduced property values and gaming because table games revenue has really gone down as surrounding states open their own casinos. And while the levy – which is up this year -is very important because it’s an enormous boon for us, five years ago it was $22 million as opposed to being approximately $19 million this year,” Gibson said.

The good news is that board members have historically put aside money, and that’s what will be used to help help balance the upcoming budget, but that’s about it, she said.

“They have been fiscally prudent, especially in the last couple of years, and West Virginia allows schools to carry over money. In other words, they let schools hold on to their savings. But after this year, we will have a very minimal amount left in that account,” Gibson said.

That’s why it is important to try to start “plugging the gap now, either through raising revenues or looking at expenditures until we’re in a better place again,” she said, adding that board members are already looking at ways for handling the growing student population without adding staffers.

Gibson, who readily advocates for a structured approach that allows for maximum transparency – to district employees as well as community members -said it’s also wise managerially because it is more effective in the long run.

Having that kind of process in place is especially important when a school district has a growing enrollment and operational needs, but revenues aren’t keeping pace – and in the case of Jefferson County Schools, are actually declining, she said.

“You are getting closer to the point that as you make decisions, you will be making them on the allocation of limited resources,” Gibson said.

As a way to help make this more fair, Gibson presented a “school needs ranking rubric” that includes information aimed at helping measure the relative needs of a school ranging from the number of free meals to building issues, she said.

“Basically we are then able to calculate how needy a school is,” Gibson said.

“So if there comes a time when you have two reading specialists but five schools all want one of them, you can use this school needs ranking rubric to be transparent and fair about how you arrive at your decision. We are going into a time when this is going to have to be done, because it just won’t be possible to do everything for everyone,” she said.

– Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131.

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