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Kanawha school board prepares for cuts after levy failure

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Now without $24 million a school excess levy would have provided, the Kanawha County Board of Education is reconsidering its budget and preparing for cuts.

Some of those future cost-saving options include reducing school staff; charging students to play sports; cutting back on utilities and nixing summer school, Superintendent Ron Duerring said in a meeting Thursday.

Duerring emphasized that these are preliminary considerations, and no decisions have been made, but warned that students will feel the consequences -- especially since more than 85 percent of the budget goes to fixed costs.

"Now when the costs start exceeding the revenues... where's the only place left to go? We have to go to that 15 percent. There are things that are going to happen that will probably affect the local schools and programming. We can't help it," Duerring said. "Can we live within our means? Yes. We have in the past and we can do it in the future. But it will not be without paying."

Duerring said he hoped not to have to reduce staff, which would force the district to again increase its student-to-teacher ratio, but other controversial options -- like the pay-to-play sports policy -- could be likely.

"Pay-to-play is no longer the exception, it's the norm. It just hasn't hit West Virginia yet," he said. "We've taken the best of all of those polices [from districts across the country] and we're now taking a look at what that pay structure would be like."

That should come as no surprise to Kanawha County residents, Duerring said, because it, among other things, was listed on the ballot of the school and library excess levy that voters overwhelmingly rejected in early November.

School board member Robin Rector worried about a potential "trickle-down effect" some cost-saving measures, if imposed, would have on students' education, especially since the levy failure delays the county's plans for expansive technology improvements.

"What's going to happen with our graduation rate? What's going to happen to this valley when we have more folks who are not able to get through our system to be career ready or college ready?" Rector said. "We're going to miss the boat here. We're missing the boat."

On Thursday, Duerring praised the board for past cost-saving measures -- like closing and consolidating 28 schools -- and said he wanted to dispel myths about the board's finances.

Those rumors are that the school system is at a deficit, that the central office is bloated and that the school board is wasteful.

"This board has been so fiscally responsible it's unbelievable, and had all these things not been done, you would've been in a rolling deficit five or six years ago. So the whole idea that they're wasteful is truly a myth," he said.

While the board has warned that a future deficit could be on the horizon if appropriate cutbacks are not made, the school system is not currently facing a deficit and hasn't since the early nineties, Duerring said.

Duerring also said that a television report that claimed the Board of Education was wasting money by throwing out functional equipment was false and quoted a "misinformed employee," he said.

Twenty-nine administrators oversee 81 facilities and more than 28,000 students in Kanawha County Schools, which is far below the recommended ratio, according to Duerring.

"We are the second-largest employer in the valley. People don't realize we are a business in many ways. We have to keep our people employed; we have to give our kids a good education. I don't want to have to turn around and do things like some districts that are stopping transportation and having kids take the city bus or doing away with counselors...," Duerring said.

"We don't want to have to go there, we have to keep this valley alive. I am charged to make sure that doesn't happen and I intend to do that."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-4814.



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