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Federal cuts could hit Kanawha schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While a $4.5 million deficit looms for Kanawha County Schools' 2014 budget, members of the Board of Education received more bad news about potential cuts during a special session on Monday.

Possible reductions in federal funding could lead to major cutbacks for the county's low-income schools, in addition to cuts in special education, Head Start programs, teacher-training services and technology grants.

"There will be some very, very tough decisions. It's not going to be an easy road," Kanawha Superintendent Ron Duerring told board members Monday evening.

With 85 percent of the county's budget already set as fixed costs, it will be difficult for the board to choose which programs to keep and which to cut in order to stay afloat, Duerring said.

In five years, the county could be looking at a deficit that exceeds $7 million, if changes aren't made.

"[The fixed costs] don't leave us very much to play with looking at all these cuts coming down the road. We're going to work very hard to stay within the funding formula," he said. "We need to make a list of things to review -- what you want to keep and don't want to keep within the school system so that we can meet the budget and keep it as a solid budget."

The county's Title I schools -- those with a majority of students who qualify for free- and reduced-price school meals -- could face an additional 8 percent cut to its already sequestered budget. That would mean about $750,000 less for those schools than in 2012.

Because of a request by the state Department of Education, a new accountability system could be on the horizon for West Virginia schools that would require counties to set aside 20 percent of their budgets for their lowest-achieving schools, according to Kanawha County Title I director Pam Padon.

If that new system were approved, with a decision slated for March, Kanawha County would lose $2.3 million of its Title I budget, forcing about 100 teachers to transfer, Padon said.

"We're kind of in a quandary not knowing," she said.

West Virginia is waiting to hear if it will continue to receive funds for Head Start, a national development program that promotes academic and social skills for children up to 5 years old.

This is the first time the state has had to re-compete for the grant instead of receiving it by way of a continuous cycle, and while only three schools have Head Start programs in the county, more than 40 teachers and service personnel are affiliated with the program, according to Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent in charge of elementary schools.

"We have every hope that our grant will be funded. However, there is a possibility that it won't be. As a precaution, these folks should be [transferred]," she said. "We understand it will cause stress and anxiety on the employees and their families, but they need to know there's a possibility positions could be reduced."

Sandy Boggs, head of exceptional students in Kanawha County, told the board members, "It gets worse," as she stepped up to talk about potential cuts to special education.

The state's special-education system is looking at a loss of $600,000 for basic supplies next year, in addition to major cutbacks to Medicaid reimbursements for students who qualify, Boggs said.

West Virginia already pays nearly $18,000 for each student who is educated in an out-of-state facility because of the lack of special-education services in the state, Boggs said.

"We can't take any more cuts," she said. "Every year, my budget is cut."

Also, funding that's dedicated to technology upgrades and English as a second language programs could be at risk in the near future, depending on federal cutbacks.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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