by Jennifer Biller
CLARKSBURG -- The Harrison County Board of Education is maintaining 48 employees over what the state pays for, based on enrollment for next year.
The number of employees over the state aid formula has fluctuated through the years. In 1991 the county had 26 more positions than the state paid for, as compared to 15 in 1997. By 1999, the number jumped to 46, and the following year it was 58.
By contrast, the county has seen a decline of 907 students since 1993.
State education officials recommended earlier this year that school boards shouldn't hire more people than the state reimburses them for. As enrollment declines, the number of staff should decline as well, they say.
"As a general rule, we recommend counties do not exceed the formula so as to not get into financial trouble," said Joe Panetta, finance director for the state Department of Education. "We make that recommendation because they have to pay those costs out of local funds, which makes the funds unavailable for other things."
The extra personnel will cost the Harrison school board and county taxpayers $2.9 million next year, compared to $650,000 in 1997, according to the 2003-04 budget.
The extra positions are paid for with local excess levy money, not state money, said Harrison County school board treasurer Sharon Haddix.
The board will raise more than $12.5 million in taxes in 2004 from the local excess levy, the budget shows.
"These aren't luxury positions," said Harrison County Superintendent Carl Friebel. "If we stayed within the formula, we'd be cutting programs."
The enrollment losses aren't coming from one specific school, Friebel said. The losses are spread across the 25 schools, so the board can't just cut positions at one school to compensate the student decline, he said.
"We have chosen to keep those people because we feel the programs we deliver to children are valuable, and there is no restriction that says you can't," Friebel said.
"We only want to reduce the programs when necessary," he said. "If we stayed within the formula, the overall quality of our system would deteriorate."
Harrison County isn't alone. Despite the state's funding formula recommendation, counties across the state are continuing the practice of hiring more employees than the state will fund.
Next year, Monongalia County will have 107 and Marion County will have 100 employees in excess of the number allowed under the formula. Other area counties also exceed the formula including Lewis by 24, Taylor 22, Doddridge 19 and Upshur 18, according to state Department of Education records.
Limiting the number of teachers and service workers to what is provided for by the state is difficult, Friebel said.
"I just don't think it's possible considering the current configuration of our schools," Friebel said. "The only thing we could do is offer services in fewer locations, which would mean more consolidations."
Harrison County schools enrolled 11,580 students this year.
Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org