RESA 5 members considering sharing services

MINERAL WELLS – The West Virginia School Board Association Region 5 met at the Comfort Suites in Mineral Wells Wednesday evening to discuss the idea of sharing services with other counties in the region to save the state money.

Members of the Wood County Board of Education joined representatives from boards in Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler and Wirt counties to discuss administrative and coordinating services, which could possibly be shared among county boards, said Howard O’Cull, representing the West Virginia School Board Association.

During 2013, West Virginia House of Representatives passed House Bill 2940, which called for Wednesday’s meeting to be held, O’Cull said. The meeting is the fifth of eight which are being held this summer; the various RESA groups from around the state are participating in the same meeting, O’Cull said.

The bill was brought about after the 2012 school efficiency audit revealed that costs keep going up despite consistently declining enrollment numbers, O’Cull said.

Attempts to curb costs came into play under the idea of sharing services among counties, O’Cull said.

According to data released during the meeting, the average pupil-to-teacher ratio in West Virginia is 14.3 to 1, and the average pupil-to-administrator ratio is 163.1 to 1.

The state employs 24,605 professional personnel, of which 19,669 are classroom teachers, the report said. There are 13,938 service personnel in the state, for a total of 38,543 employees.

The average salary of professionals is $47,810, for classroom teachers is $45,086 and for service personnel is $26,803, the report said.

The report indicated that Wood County spends 58.8 percent of its annual funding on instruction.

Members of the boards of education were split up into random groups for cross-communication among boards to see if any services could be shared among the counties in the future.

The shared services were not items which would be shared immediately, but rather possibilities which would be created by future retirements, O’Cull said.

School board members from across the RESA 5 area discussed information, including the following for each county present: the number of personnel employed, average contracted salaries of employees, expenditures for current operations, current operations classified by functions, number of students per year per school, pupil-to-administrator ratios and pupil-to-teacher ratios.

Groups then reviewed the Region 5 report, provided to those present, and gave comments about the document, followed by attempts to identify additional services which could be shared among counties.

Group responses focused mainly on that county school boards should be the ones to come up with the list of what services can be shared, but the RESA administration should determine which of these was implemented.

Incentives should be split equally among the group instead of being based on how many students are in an area, group members said.

Comments were made about concerns that a lack of shared directors would prove difficult for the counties, but would probably require a RESA representative to ensure everything went according to plan.

Local flexibility of funds would also help, the groups responded.

Some groups already share between counties, such as Wood and Wirt sharing the same child nutritionist. However, other personnel, such as attorneys, mechanics and diagnostic repairs, are not being shared and could be, some groups commented.

Comments from two groups revealed that when a service was shared in the past, the county the person resided in reportedly received more attention from a specialist than the other county, representatives said.

Others said that sharing services among counties would look good on paper, but may end up being difficult to perform and that sharing services was not an ideal situation, and was not what was wanted.

Still others commented that the idea felt forced on them, and they were being forced to select the least of evils during the process.

One group voiced this opinion strongly, saying they wanted those in charge to understand that none of the service sharing situations posed to them were desired. They feared those in power would come back later and claim the various board members had agreed with the idea when they were actually not given the option to protest, group members said.

Almost everyone present applauded the comments made by the dissenting group.

The comments of all groups were collected by the RESA state personnel at the meeting, and will be typed and distributed to participants along with those from other RESA groups that have participated in the program.

The release date of these typed comments was not available at Wednesday’s meeting.