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Officials Continue To Discuss
 Deficit, Need For Levy To Pass
by Gary Knight

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Exactly what factors contributed in largest part to the Calhoun County schools deficit has been speculated upon and discussed at great length. One question remains: “Who will fix it?”

At stake when voters take to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4, are a number of state and local offices and a county school levy that calls for funds in excess of $700,000 to be raised annually for five years, in order for the Calhoun County school system to fund routine operations and expenses.

Ideally, the levy will facilitate the purge of a budget deficit that had, at the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, exceeded $1,800,000.

According to school officials, without the corrective measures already taken by the superintendent and board of education, the amount might potentially have reached the $2,000,000 mark by end of the 2014-15 fiscal year.

In keeping, at least in part, with his pledge, Woodward hosted a public question-and-answer meeting on Monday in the CM/HS auditorium. The meeting, lasting roughly an hour and 20 minutes, was attended by approximately 25 people. Except for a few, the meeting was attended almost entirely by those who are either current or past school system employees.

In an Oct. 16 interview with the Chronicle, finance director Dan Minney expressed his disappointment that during the last attempt at passing the levy in May, so few people had attended any of the three meetings held to answer questions and inform the public on matters regarding the deficit, school budgeting and financing, and what the levy’s passage would mean to the school system and its students.

He felt that “people need to become informed and make informed decisions.”

If Monday’s meeting was any indication, the trend alluded to by Minney continues, due possibly to miscommunication regarding the time of the meeting.

A flier prepared and issued by the school system lists benefits from the levy as:

--Preservation of the free breakfast and lunch program. Woodward told of principals taking steps to ensure that every in-need student had plenty of food to take home with them in the event that inclement weather or any other cause might close schools for an extended period of time: “They take these kids aside and fill their book bags full of food.” Woodward said continuance of this practice is a priority and the levy will provide the means to see that it continues indefinitely.

--Continued funding for 4-H and the WVU Extension Service. Woodward said that the Calhoun FFA is an excellent program, “one of the best programs in Calhoun County,” and that the levy is essential to maintaining a partnership with the extension service in continuing programs that have produced exceptional and prestigious results in the past.

--Recruit and retain high quality teachers. Woodward said that there are currently non-certified personnel teaching some of the classes in Calhoun schools. Non-certified substitutes have been called upon to fulfill the challenging demands and expectations of teaching those classes: “We can’t afford to go to the necessary job fairs to recruit high quality teachers. We cannot expect to sit here and have them come to us. They aren’t going to come,” he said. Woodward suggested that more aggressive recruiting tactics are required to help ensure the presence of certified, quality teachers in Calhoun classrooms.

--Provide transportation for extracurricular events, such as field trips and after-school activity buses. Woodward pointed out that levy funding will pay for establishment and continuance of after-school tutoring and further instruction.

--Maintain and repair school facilities. Woodward said that teachers were compelled to use part of the one day they were given to prepare their class-rooms for student instruction and learning to do custodial/maintenance work due to the absence of the appropriate personnel as a result of cutbacks in contract days enacted to help diminish the deficit: “This decreased the time teachers had to prepare for education of students.”

--Free admission for all Calhoun County residents to athletic events, shows, and concerts. When questioned on this, Woodward said that would apply only to senior citizens and those on fixed incomes.

Woodward added that the majority of Calhoun graduates will likely enter into career/technical fields of endeavor and employment instead of college.

He said that the system must adequately prepare students for a demanding, challenging and high-tech world and that high level technology in the classroom will be one of the primary and essential needs serviced by the levy: “We have to put the tools in those students’ hands that they can walk out of Calhoun schools and show those people we are prepared to do this job.”

More information from the meeting included:

--The first year of indebtedness was 2011.

--The levy will cost nothing for those covered by the Homestead Act.

--Woodward promised to keep the school board constantly aware of financial dealings: “If we keep the board more aware of the money we are spending, then we should never be in this situation again. Once we are out of it, unless the legislature changes the funding formula, then we can be in the black all the time.”

--We have determined that we will feed each child in Calhoun schools at least two free meals per day,” said the superintendent.

--Learning supplies, technology, pens, paper and books must be placed into the hands of students.

--Students should be encouraged to participate in fine arts programs such as art and music: “We want parents and the general public to come in and see the talents these kids have and the things they can do.”

Woodward said he felt the meeting was productive and positive: “The questions were good, a school budget and its workings are difficult to fully discuss in just one meeting. The state has told us that we have a deficit we have to pay, and we can’t pay it.”

Woodard went on to point out that community prosperity and well-being are contingent upon the quality of education: “It impacts a wide range of community factors, all of which education has a direct impact upon.”

Causes for the deficit have been cited as: decreased student enrollment, non-funded state mandates, a flawed state per-student funding formula, short sightedness, and lack of communication among key personnel and departments.

There may not be only one answer to “Who will fix it?” Some have suggested the State. Others see it as the responsibility of the citizens of Calhoun County.

Woodward, in an earlier interview, invoked the Hilary Clinton adage that “it takes a community to raise a child,” adding that we all, whether we have students in public schools, have a duty to see to it that all children receive a quality education, because “they will someday be the leaders of our community.”

He encouraged voters also to not let anger over the past, ruin the future: “The future is good. We will fix this.”

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