West Virginia District Sues State Over Funding Delays
West Virginia's largest school district has taken legal action against the state in an attempt to force the immediate payment of about $10- million in education funding.
The money, owed to the Kanawha County district under West Virginia's school-finance formula, has been held up by a continuing fiscal crisis that has left the state treasury empty on several occasions during the past six months.
All told, the state is now six weeks behind on its school-aid payments, and owes districts a total of $105- million, according to a spokesman for the Kanawha County Board of Education, which oversees schools in the Charleston area.
The board voted this month to file a motion seeking payment of the funds with Judge Jerry W. Cook, who is presiding over a massive lawsuit that seeks major changes in the state's school-aid formula.
Michael Bell, the spokesman for the Kanawha County board, said the district had enough money to continue operating until Feb. 25.
"At that point, if we do not have enough money to pay our people, we are going to shut down," he said.
Although state officials have offered emergency aid to any district faced with default, Mr. Bell said the board is demanding full payment of all funds owed the district. Under the state constitution, he said, only payment of the state's bonded debt has a higher priority than school funding.
"Our position is that they should not seek to fix this situation with a Band Aid," Mr. Bell said.
State Treasurer A. James Manchin, meanwhile, has indicated that he will ask Judge Cook for permission to switch sides in the ongoing finance suit if the county school board names him as a defendant in its motion.
Mr. Manchin has complained that the state's finance commissioner has used existing revenues to pay for other obligations, instead of directing all available funds to the schools.
The state board of education also voted this month to bring suit against the state unless the finance commissioner agrees to a schedule for making up the tardy aid payments.--wm