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Ensure Schools Get Assistance

Ohio County Schools’ finances are in “very, very good condition,” district business manager Steve Bieniek reported last week.

Just across the river in Martins Ferry, the situation is different — in large measure because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Martins Ferry City Schools Treasurer Dana Garrison told board of education members last week the district is projected to be spending $3 million more than it takes in by 2024.

Garrison blamed the side-effects of COVID-19 for much of the problem. Revenue will not become a problem immediately because Martins Ferry schools are expected to end the current fiscal year with about $6 million on hand, she noted.

Coincidentally, a $6 million carryover from last year is being credited with keeping Ohio County Schools’ finances in good condition — for now. That could change, depending on factors such as whether state aid is reduced.

We suspect fiscal affairs in school districts throughout the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio are uncertain, primarily because of the COVID-19 upheaval. In Brooke County, it needs to be noted, an unrelated challenge has left the school board $3.2 million a year short of handling its budget. Dozens of school personnel have been laid off there.

No one can say what the bottom line on the epidemic is for school districts. That is because the crisis is far from over.

It will be surprising if it does not affect public schools in both West Virginia and Ohio adversely, however.

Both states’ governments have been given federal funds to help deal with the coronavirus situation — but, as we have reported, there are restrictions on how the money can be used.

Clearly, federal officials should permit use of the relief funds to help both local and state governments — including schools — to “backfill” budgets, covering revenue shortfalls traceable to the epidemic.

Once that happens, legislators and governors in both our states should view public schools as a top priority for help. In many ways, education is the most important function of local and state governments. COVID-19 should not be allowed to affect that mission adversely.

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