School officials in some of West Virginia's most rural counties are slated to see major losses in financial support they receive from the U.S. Forest Service.
The Secure Rural Schools Act provides financial support for 775 counties across the nation located near national forests. These counties once relied on a portion of timber revenue, but increased logging regulations on federal land in the 1990s caused these revenues to dip drastically. The act was developed to shore up these forested counties.
Babete Anderson, national press officer for the Forest Service, said, without congressional reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act, payments to these rural schools must revert to 1908 guidelines regarding timber revenues.
Counties in West Virginia that receive this funding are Barbour, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker and Webster.
Counties that could be hit the hardest are those that contain the Monongahela National Forrest, like Greenbrier and Pocahontas. Because full funding was expected and budgeted, counties that have received large amounts in the past might see budget shortfalls.
Sherry Radcliff, chief financial officer for Pocahontas County Schools, said 62 percent of the county is owned by the federal or state governments, greatly reducing their tax base.
In fiscal year 2012, Pocahontas County Schools received $470,980 under the act. The school district expected $377,000 for fiscal year 2016. But unless the act is reauthorized, Pocahontas can expect around $97,900, according to U.S. Forest Service estimates.
"That is a drastic cut for Pocahontas. We won't get big revenues down from county taxes, and now we are seeing this drop," said Radcliff.
Greenbrier County Schools Chief Financial Officer David McClure said Greenbrier saw $152,215 in fiscal year 2012 and was expecting $121,569 for fiscal year 2016. If rates revert to the 1908 law, Greenbrier will instead get an estimated $35,000.
Also with a significant decrease, Randolph County anticipated $275,166 but could receive $64,000 instead.
Hypothetically, Randolph County Schools Chief Financial Officer Bradley Smith said, the first place school districts look to cut is personnel over state aid formula. From there, they turn to cutting maintenance budgets.
McClure said the counties have tried to phase out budgeting money from the U.S. Forest Service, but it is hard when budgets are so tight.
These cuts are on top of other budget constraints every county is experiencing, including massive cuts to Medicaid reimbursements that many school districts rely on, he said.
McClure said he normally receives a letter informing the district when they are expected to receive the forestry funds, but he has not gotten that letter yet.
The allocations are made to the State's Auditor's Office and then distributed.
The Forest Service said it expects to make payments to states in mid-February.
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