School Spending Increases in West Virginia, Even as Enrollment Drops

CHARLESTON — As state policy experts, teachers, parents, lawmakers and students continue to meet for regional roundtable groups in preparation of the May special session on education, numbers show an increase in education spending despite students leaving the system.

According to a report from the State Auditor’s Office released in February, revenue for county boards of education grew by 14 percent between fiscal years 2009 and 2017, from $2.95 billion to $3.36 billion. Expenses kept pace at 13 percent during the same time period, from $2.85 billion in 2009 to $3.22 billion in 2017.

Yet, the student headcount between fiscal years 2009 and 2017 decreased by 3 percent statewide, from more than 281,000 in 2009 to more than 273,000 in 2017.

Student headcounts consist of the second month of enrollment in a given school year.

Despite the decrease in students, statewide revenue per student grew from $10,467 in fiscal year 2009 to $12,282 in fiscal year 2017, a 17 percent increase.

Pleasants County had the largest loss in student population during the eight-year period, with a 16 percent loss in headcount. But between fiscal year 2009 and 2017, the school system in Pleasants County saw a 32 percent increase in revenue. Property tax revenue from natural gas drilling alone increased by 46 percent. School system expenses increased by 29 percent despite the drop in headcount.

Doddridge County, also awash in property tax revenue due to the growth in the natural gas industry, saw its school system expenses increase by 51 percent between 2009 and 2017 even though its student population decreased by 2 percent. Doddridge County saw its school system revenue increase by 105 percent due to the natural gas drilling, causing a 284-percent increase in property tax revenue.

The numbers of teachers funded by the School Aid Formula in the state increased by 68 percent between fiscal year 2011 and 2019, from 510 to 858. During that same time frame, no counties declined in the number of teachers. The number of school service personnel during that period decreased by 3.1 percent from 12,494 in 2011 to 12,103 in 2019.

Salaries have increased between fiscal years 2011 and 2018, with the average contracted county school superintendent salaries increasing by 16 percent and assistant superintendent salaries increasing by 12 percent. The average salary for a county superintendent in fiscal year 2010 was approximately $103,000, while fiscal year 2018 average salaries increased to more than $120,000.

Looking at teacher salaries at the elementary level, the State Auditor’s Office concluded that teachers only saw a 1 percent increase between fiscal years 2011 and 2018, from $44,000 to $45,000 on average. Last year, all teachers and school service personnel received a 5 percent pay raise for fiscal year 2019 that began in July 2018. In October 2018, Gov. Jim Justice promised teachers and school service personnel another 5 percent pay raise.

The Senate put a 5 percent raise inside an omnibus education bill – Senate Bill 451 – in January. That bill included reform to the School Aid Formula to fund counties with smaller student enrollment at 1,400 students, froze the formula at 2015 rates, gave voters power to raise regular levy rates, and gave counties flexibility to increase teacher salaries for high-need subjects.

The bill died – including the pay raise provision – after the Senate and the House of Delegates could not agree on provisions of the bill that would have created the state’s first charter school program and education savings accounts for special needs students. The Senate refused to take up a separate teacher and school service personnel pay raise bill.

Justice called a special session for education betterment, which is expected to meet in May. The state Department of Education has been holding regional roundtable discussions on education reform, bringing together teachers, parents, students, lawmakers, community members, and more.

Blennerhasset Middle School in Wood County hosted one such event Monday. The next events are April 1 at Robert C. Byrd High School in Harrison County, April 2 at Wheeling Park High School in Ohio County and April 3 at Berkeley Springs High School in Morgan County.

To RSVP for one of the roundtable forums or to take an online survey, visit wvde.us/education-public-forum. To view the full State Auditor’s Office report on public education finances, visit wvsao.gov/BudgetAnalysis.

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