CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Board of Education will ask the Legislature to free up a portion of the state aid formula in an attempt to give local districts more control over spending.
Board members don't expect that effort to be easy.
The state government provides money to school districts each year to be used specifically for things like teacher and service personnel salaries, student transportation, administrative costs and other expenses, such as supplies for improvement of instructional programs.
The amount of money the state's 55 school districts are given -- and how it is distributed -- are determined by a complex, decades-old funding formula that takes into account factors such as student enrollment figures and county tax collections.
However, the Board of Education voted earlier this week to write a letter to legislators asking them to consider allowing up to 10 percent of that funding to be used by school districts however they choose.
"The idea is not to throw the formula out. The idea is to use the formula to use the money more efficiently," said state school board member Tom Campbell, who heads the Department of Education's Commission on Budget Flexibility -- one of many workgroups created in response to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill last year.
"This would give them a tool to better manage their resources," Campbell said. "It's not altering the formula in any way, it would simply provide flexibility at the local district level on a case-by-case basis."
However, some fellow school board members, such as Lloyd Jackson, are apprehensive about the proposal, citing concerns that because a portion of the funding in the aid formula is strictly set aside for teachers, loosening those rules could lead to districts having fewer teachers, or worse: more administrators than teachers.
"If a county has 100 employees, 10 percent is 10 people. That's a huge amount of people to come out of the classroom, and that's where they're going to come from," Jackson said. "I can see huge opposition to taking the money [designated for school staff] out.
"I think it's a noble thing to do. I think the devil's in the details, though," Jackson said. "As you all know, this formula has been so finely tuned through the years. This would be considered an incredibly major change [by the Legislature], to allow that to happen."
Board member Michael Green said that while it's important to be careful about what exact changes they plan to ask for, it's in the spirit of the board's recent focus on more local control to move forward with the proposal.