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Preston Schools could lose employees after enrollment loss blamed on COVID-19

KINGWOOD — Preston County Schools could lose 14 teachers and 12 service personnel next year, if the legislature doesn’t agree to alter how it figures funding during COVID-19.

That’s double the number of teachers Superintendent Steve Wotring first estimated could be lost based on enrollment numbers.

State funding for school personnel is based on enrollment. These numbers are based on the preliminary enrollment figures released by the state, Wotring said Monday.

“The preliminary numbers we receive from the state are based on our current enrollment,” Wotring said. “So with this whole COVID thing, that’s caused more and more students to home school.”

Another large drop is in the number of pre-k students enrolled, Wotring said earlier. He believes those parents also decided to keep their children at home because of COVID-19 fears.

Figures compiled by the county in the fall showed seven of the county’s 10 schools had less enrollment than last year. At that time it was estimated there were 172.68 full-time equivalent pupils less this school year.

The board plans to meet with Preston’s state legislators Dec. 21 to discuss its concerns.

“So we are asking that the legislators pass a hold harmless clause that would keep us funded at this year and not reduce us next year,” Wotring said, repeating what he told the board earlier.

School officials hope many of the students who switched to home schooling, and the many pre-k students whose parents chose to keep them at home this year, will return to school in the fall of 2021, so only a one-year fix is needed.

If the legislature funds county personnel based on this year’s enrollment and those students do return, “we have no way of funding to pay for all those teachers, and it’s all going to have to come out of your budget,” the superintendent explained.

But county boards of education must let employees know whether their contracts are being renewed early in the year — a deadline that comes before the legislative session ends.

So the cuts will have to be made early in 2021, Wotring emphasized. “And they will be devastating,” if the preliminary numbers hold up.
“I don’t know how that’s going to happen,” Wotring said. “We’re just going to sit down and crunch numbers like we always do, but if the legislature then would pass the hold harmless clause, we could put all these people back.”

“But we have to take the action up front. Because if the legislators don’t take any action and give us help on that, then we have to reduce our numbers for what the state aid will cover,” or the county has to come up with funds to pay the personnel.

Also Monday the board:

  • was told it’s hoped the new bleachers can be installed at the high school in time for graduation.
  • approved the 10-year Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan.
  • learned that security cameras on the campus of Preston High and the board offices have been installed. The county paid about $2,000 for the work. The other $110,000 was grant funded by Homeland Security. Assistant Superintendent Brad Martin said applications may also be made for grants to cover security at other sites.

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