Marion County School Board, state lawmakers meet over education funding formula

·4 min read

May 14—FAIRMONT — State lawmakers and the board of education agree — the state funding formula is outdated.

Thursday, the Marion County Board of Education met with state lawmakers in a workshop where they discussed policy and issues they believe need to be changed.

All five board members and the superintendent were joined by W.Va. Sen. Mike Caputo, D-13; Del. Guy Ward, R-White Hall; Del. Joey Garcia, D-Fairmont; and Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor County. W.Va. Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, who was unable to attend, had his wife, Rachel Beach, attend for him.

Of the many topics discussed two major issues took up the brunt of the work session. First was the formula the state uses to determine the amount of funding a district will receive, and second, was concerns surrounding the recently-passed Hope Scholarship.

"The school aid formula, of course, is old," said Scott Reider, treasurer for the Marion County BOE. "It has not really been adjusted for changes and requirements that our educators and school systems have to have."

This year, the formula has garnered extra attention because the state used 2020's COVID-related low enrollment numbers to calculate the funding the districts will receive for October 2021. This is mainly what caused the recently reported dip of $2.7 million in the budget next year.

Another issue involved when a student requires an individualized education program. These IEPs are paid for out of the district's pocket rather than worked into the yearly personnel budget, since the state aid formula doesn't account for students with those needs.

"That's the glaring area," Reider said. "That's the area we're usually over in the formula is the aides."

Ideas were tossed around such as using the previous year's number of required aides to come up with a number for the next school year, which the board said would be helpful.

"We want to do what's best for the child," said Mary Jo Thomas, president of the board. "But with court ordered [aides] we have no choice. So even the ones we have no choice there's still no help."

The next issue raised was the Hope Scholarship that was recently passed by the legislature. The scholarship attempts to give parents and guardians options with how and where their child is educated.

"My colleagues and I, we just have a difference in opinion," Caputo said. "My biggest concern was taking away the resources from the masses, that's why I voted against it."

Reider and the board had similar concerns with the scholarship and the unknowns it brings.

"The biggest concern I have as a treasurer is the unknown of what this Hope Scholarship program could do to our funding," Reider said. "If students drop out to take advantage of the funds to go to a charter school or homeschool, that's really going to affect our funds."

Board members asked about those students who might start the year homeschooled, but at some point, returns to their public school after having received the Hope Scholarship. They wanted to know whether that could result in the state paying for that student twice.

"I would suggest [the board] draft a letter and send it to the treasurer's office, because they're going to set up the rules for how this scholarship is managed," Summers said. "Maybe when a child returns into the system, any portion of the state aid that was set aside can come back to the school system."

Board member Thomas Dragich raised concerns with how these programs and funds will affect teachers.

"What we haven't discussed about this is, what about the teachers?" Dragich said. "This whole thing where we've had to cut people because we're over [budget] has caused an undue amount of stress on teachers.

"There needs to be some common sense and the [state BOE] needs to go out and actually talk to the people who are out in the field."

No action was taken at the work session, but could lead to items being placed on upcoming board of education meeting agendas.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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