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Brooke board facing shortfall

WELLSBURG — Brooke County school officials said Monday they expect some difficult decisions as they contend with a $3.2 million miscalculation in the five-year operating levy approved by voters last year.

Supported by voters for more than 40 years, the levy has raised funds for staff, programs and services not covered by the state.

Last year it was altered to include about $6,500 in raises and stipends for nearly 400 employees in the school district.

Expected to raise $7.7 million over five years, the levy was supported by 2,410 voters and opposed by 1,017 voters.

It was a smaller margin than in previous years that some attributed to the previous school board’s approval of large salaries for many staff at the board office.

Plans to provide raises to teachers, secretaries, custodians and other service personnel were announced soon after the board staff raises were implemented.

Deidra Parr, the school district’s treasurer, said a calculation by previous staff of line items in the levy veered greatly from their actual expense, resulting in the anticipated shortfall.

As a result, school officials are mulling cuts to staff and other cost-saving measures in order to submit a balanced budget to the state by June 30.

Stephanie Zimmer, spokesperson for the school district, said about 20 professional personnel and about 61 service personnel aren’t covered by the state through a funding formula based on school enrollment.

She didn’t know how many of those staff could be terminated but said any cuts must be considered by the board in March and acted upon by May 1.

On Monday the board heard from Paula Doll, newly appointed co-chair of a volunteer steering committee being formed by the board to consider improvements to the school district.

She offered to help the board and its accounting staff to weather the financial crisis.

Doll said since becoming superintendent of schools early last year, Jeffrey Crook has worked to cut costs and board staff members have assumed multiple hats.

Last year the school district was placed on the state Department of Education’s financial watch list because its unencumbered balance for the upcoming fiscal year wasn’t at the recommended 5 percent of its budget.

Crook said the drop in carryover could be attributed largely to a drop in enrollment by about 105 students from the previous year and a $1.5 million expense for the auxiliary gym at the county’s new middle school not covered by state and bond issue funds for the project.

Doll said the county loses $8,000 in $10,000 for each student who leaves the school district. She said she’s heard many students left due to dissatisfaction with the consolidation of schools a few years ago that was expected to save the district $1.4 million.

“Does it make sense to continue down this path?” she asked.

In related business, Crook asked board members for input in pursuing the sale of the closed schools. Noting the sales must be done through a public auction, he asked whether they should seek to sell them collectively or individually and set minimum bids for them.

Steve Mitchell, maintenance director, said it costs about $16,000 to maintain them.

Of five schools closed in recent years, the two middle schools remain vacant while Colliers and Beech Bottom primary schools are used for storage. L.B. Millsop Primary School is used as the district’s alternative learning center.

Stacy Hooper, the board’s vice president, asked Crook to present options with pros and cons to the board in the future.

Board member Christopher Byers suggested the board consider selling its own office building, arguing its location along state Route 2 makes it very appealing. He hinted the board could use another of its buildings and asked how much space at Brooke High School is not in use.

Board President Ted Pauls encouraged Crook and his staff to be creative in developing options, adding, “I think it’s important for us to do whatever we can to find out why students leave.”

Also on Monday:

¯ Crook said it was discovered a five-year contract for printers and copiers had been signed by former superintendent Toni Shute but not the board.

Zimmer, who’s also the district’s technology director, said the contract violates state code for school boards because it’s more than one year long and has no escape clause.

At the advice of its legal counsel, the board agreed to nullify the contract, effective June 30, and advertise for the service again.

¯ Approved the $7,635 purchase of a motor control training system to be used by the high school’s electrical technology classes.

¯ The board approved an agreement allowing Walden University’s online education students to complete student teaching in the county’s schools.

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