FAIRMONT — Decreased student enrollment is on track to create a $1 million hole in the budget for Marion County Schools.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Donna Hage said, as of Oct. 1, there are currently 7,430 students enrolled in school, a decrease of about 230 students from last year’s total.
Hage also told board members there are currently about 200 more students being home-schooled than previous years. During a normal year, the district sees around 500 students home-schooled, this year there are around 730 students.
Whether or not an increase in home schooling is the cause of the decrease, Hage said school boards across the state are experiencing similar decreases.
“Pretty much every district in the state of West Virginia... are experiencing declines in student enrollment,” Hage said. “The difficult part of that decline in enrollment is that it’s tied to funding.”
Combined with last year’s dip in enrollment, Marion County has experienced a decrease of $3 million in state funding over two years. However, the dollars coming into the district from the American Rescue Plan Act are saving many jobs that would’ve otherwise been lost.
However, those federals dollars expire in June 2024 and board members are prepping for the worst.
“We’re going to have to tighten our belts and everyone needs to understand that,” board member Tom Dragich said. “There really is no getting around it.”
Hage said she’s already making changes that will ease the financial loss once those federal dollars expire.
“We will be scrutinizing every position just because once June 2024 comes...that’s also when our levy ends,” Hage said. “We do need to make some hard decisions and proactively start looking at some of these positions so we can tighten our belt.”
Hage shared that there are two retirements pending from the central office staff, both of which she will recommend the board not fill saying it’s important the central office set the example.
“We have to set the example that we need to absorb some of the positions and look for ways we can still offer the programs we offer but just do it more efficiently,” Hage said.
The superintendent gave an update regarding COVID-19 cases in the schools and was pleased to report a downturn in case numbers over the last few weeks. Two weeks ago the district had 48 positive cases, now the count is down to 18 cases.
“It may be too early to tell, but our hope is that we’re on the downward slide of this,” Hage said. “But we still need to remain diligent.”
Updates from Principals
Nan Murray, principal of White Hall Elementary, and Kristin DeVaul, principal of North Marion High School, were the first to participate in a new “check up” series Hage has started.
During the next few school board meetings, principals from around the county will present to the board how they’re doing with curriculum and any issues they may be struggling with.
“Many times boards of education talk about facilities and athletics, but the essence of what we do and the reason we’re here is curriculum,” Hage said. “I really wanted to put that on the front burner.”
The board members were grateful to hear directly from the schools and applauded Hage on the idea.
“Right now we’re basically playing catch-up,” board member Richard Pellegrin said. “I really think this is a great idea to have the principals come in and explain what they’re doing.”
In other business
- Tyler McCutchan presented a donation of a 3D printer bought using profits from his recent Car Show in Pleasant Valley.
- Received an update from officials at Fairmont State University and their involvement in helping the county with the school district’s substitute teacher shortage.
The board’s next meeting will be Oct. 18 in the central office at 6 p.m.