PARKERSBURG - Wood County Schools may be looking at a tight budget year, and an official is recommending some capital improvement projects be put on hold.
Finance Director Connie Roberts spoke Tuesday to the Wood County Board of Education, recommending the board hold on to a $2 million budget carryover rather than using the money to fund roof replacements at schools throughout the district.
"The unassigned fund balance or carryover (from fiscal year 2011-12) is right around $2 million," Roberts said. "The state recommends a 3 percent contingency fund be kept by boards, and that carryover is well below that recommended amount."
Photos by Michael Erb
Roofer Mike Radcliff patches a seam on the roof of the Wood County Schools’ maintenance shop on Edgelawn Street in south Parkersburg.
Storm damage is still visible atop a shelter at Wood County Schools’ physical plant.
Roberts said for the school system, a 3 percent contingency would be more than $3 million, but added few school systems within West Virginia are able to meet the 3 percent recommendation.
State officials already are warning agencies including school systems of possible budget cuts. Officials have asked some state departments to begin budget cuts now, but have so far kept such cuts away from education.
Roberts said that may not be an option.
"The word I'm hearing is state revenues are coming in less than projected," she said, "which could trickle down to us eventually."
Roberts said in the five years she has worked for Wood County Schools, the district has managed to avoid making painful budget decisions.
"We've been very fortunate. We've managed to survive some difficult economic times," she said. "We've not had to cut services or programs since I've been here."
The school system also is carrying a sizable debt stemming from a 2004 project to renovate and expand the district's three public high schools. Roberts said the district is expected to pay off more than $2 million in capital lease agreements for things such as lockers and lighting by 2017. The school system is expected to pay off a remaining $19.5 million in bond debt stemming from construction at the three schools by 2020.
Until then the school system will annually pay about $3 million on those debts.
The financial warning comes as board members and administrators are looking at how to replace many of the roofs on Wood County's 27 public schools and half-dozen other facilities. Though some schools have relatively new roofs, such as the three high schools, many suffered damage from recent storms and many more are over 20 years old.
Sue Woodward, superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools, said five of six planned roof replacement projects were completed this summer. New roofs were installed at Gihon, Madison, Criss and Lubeck elementary schools and at Jackson Middle School.
The projects were made possible due to $2.7 million which had been set aside for possible other post employment benefits (OPEB) payments, which thanks to changes at the state level were not needed.
Woodward said some of the $2.7 million remains, and officials are waiting on cost estimates to see if there is enough money left to do a roof replacement project at Emerson Elementary School.
"There is no capital money for additional roof replacements right now," she said. "Hopefully we will have enough left from the $2.7 million to do the sixth roof, but it is going to be tight."
Woodward added roofs at Franklin Elementary Center and Hamilton Middle School are in as bad of shape as the one at Emerson and cannot last much longer without serious issues.
"If we have a hard winter this year with a lot of freezing and thawing, it just cracks," she said. "We are going to have to start looking at alternate sources of funding. It can't wait."
Woodward said crews are still working on maintaining and patching existing roofs, but many were put into place 20-30 years ago and only had warranties for the first 15 years.
Wood County Schools roofer Mike Radcliff, who is responsible for 15 schools in the northern part of the county, said the age of the roofs coupled with violent summer storms have caused issues throughout the county.
"The patching I do, I'm lucky to get a month or two out of them on some schools," he said.
Woodward said it's not just roofs that will have to wait. Many schools need new windows, doors and extensive electrical upgrades.
"We just don't have the money to tackle the infrastructure needs," she said.