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New schools chief gets budget extension

The state Department of Education will be allowed to make changes to the proposed budget that already has been sent to the Governor's Office because there is a new superintendent of schools.

Jim Phares, sworn in Wednesday as state superintendent, said at the ceremony that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin offered him a week's extension to examine the department's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin confirmed that Tomblin had granted the extension.

The superintendent is responsible for drafting the department's budget request every year. The initial request was due to the State Budget Office in early September. Jorea Marple was superintendent at that time and did submit a proposal.  

The leadership change may warrant changes in the budget, Goodwin said.

"We certainly want to work with the superintendent on his priorities and give him the opportunity to review the budget," Goodwin said in a phone interview.

Tomblin in August asked state agencies to cut 7.5 percent from their budget proposals for the next fiscal year to help cover rising Medicaid costs.

Several entities are exempt from the cuts, including the school aid formula. The formula determines how much state funding will go to the 55 county public school systems. It accounts for roughly half of the state's $4 billion general revenue budget.

The education department itself is not exempt from the cuts. In her letter to the Department of Revenue, Marple said the 7.5 percent cut would translate to roughly $9 million.

"The budget reduction negatively impacts the delivery of program and services to students throughout West Virginia," Marple said, echoing statements from other department heads.

Of the $9 million, $1.2 million would come from reducing personnel costs. As of Dec. 13 there were 34 unfilled positions at the department, according to department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro. Five new positions were also created, she said in an email.

For the current fiscal year, that means the department employs 288 people at its Charleston location. Other employees, including those at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, are also considered department employees and are not reflected in that number.

There were 317 employees at the department's Charleston location in 2012 and 319 in 2011, Cordeiro said in the email.

The Schools for the Deaf and Blind will cut $1 million from their budgets, and that is reflected in the $9 million total, according to Marple's letter. The remaining funds will come from the elimination or reduction of a variety of programs.

The Innovation Zone and dropout solution/prevention programs would be eliminated, the letter states. Funding would be reduced for mentoring programs, alternative education programs and early retirement notification incentives, among other initiatives.

In an emailed statement, Phares said department officials still were looking at the budget.

"We are revisiting the budget and considering changes; however specific information will not be available until we meet with the (board) and receive input from all members," Phares said.

The board meets Wednesday. The department's budget is listed under the superintendent's report on the agenda for the meeting.

Nothing concerning the state budget is set in stone. Tomblin is expected to present his proposed state budget to the Legislature in early February.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.  


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