CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County School Board of Education recently voted to place an additional percentage to the excess levy. There may be some people skeptical about this decision.
When the board placed the excess levy on the ballot in 2012, they did not know the funding cuts that would occur from the federal government and other sources. These cuts combined with inflation and the cap on the excess levy have left the school budget heading toward a deficit. Keep in mind that roughly 87 percent of the Kanawha Schools' budget goes to fixed costs. The 13 percent left is where the cuts must come from in order to balance the budget.
Many cost-saving measures have been implemented. The Board of Education has closed 28 schools in 15 years. Central Office administrative staff has been reduced from 42 employees in 1998 to 31 employees in 2013. This is a reduction of 11 employees. Overtime hours have been reduced 50 percent in maintenance and 43 percent in payroll. Cooperative purchasing with four other counties in our RESA area has saved Kanawha County Schools $5,372,170 yearly. The rebidding of contracted services through the purchasing department has provided a cost savings of $3,819,704. The teacher pupil ratio was increased from 23:1 to 24:1 in the high schools and 21:1 to 22:1 in the middle schools. This was a cost savings of $1,984,000. An energy savings program has saved $7,400,000 over the years.
There have been some revenue generating measures taken as well. A safety program was initiated that put $1.2 million back in the budget yearly due to a reduction in premium payments. Medicaid reimbursements went from $65,000 to $4 million. However, new regulations have reduced that amount by $2 million dollars. Preschool enrollment was increased to bring an additional $356,000.
There are many other ways in which Kanawha County Schools has worked to be fiscally responsible. After all, we have a duty to make sure the taxpayers' contributions are carefully spent.
Simply put, costs have exceeded revenues. There are only two paths to travel. Either increase revenue or decrease spending. The Kanawha County School System has taken measures to reduce costs that would not directly affect students and to increase revenues. Given that we are dealing with only 13 percent of the budget after fixed costs, we have reached a point in time that future measures taken will affect our students if we have to make those cuts.
The question before the public is: Do we want to move forward or take several steps backward?
It has been said that we should not propose tax rates based on projections, but that we should wait until we see if we are going to have a deficit. Rather than waiting for a deficit to occur, the excess levy allows us to avert a budget deficit. This measure is equivalent to immunization. The purpose of immunization is to initiate preventive measures and maintain good health. Just as we strive to protect our students from illness, we must take steps to avoid weakening our educational system.
Duerring is superintendent of Kanawha County Schools.