Upshur County finally removed from W.Va. Department of Education’s Financial Watch List

TENNERTON – Upshur County Schools officials shared some good news during the Upshur County Board of Education meeting Tuesday at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Upshur County School Financial Director Jeffrey Perkins said that as of April 2022, they were officially notified that the Upshur County Board of Education has been removed from the Financial Watch List maintained by the West Virginia Department of Education School Finance Services.

Perkins said the decision to remove Upshur County was primarily based on the improvement in the board’s unrestricted general current expense fund balance as of June 30, 2021, and because of other factors, including the number of personnel paid through local funds. He said the letter they received from the WVDE was from Uriah Cummings, the WVDE Director of School Finance.

“The state watchlist was established in 2007 and we were an inaugural member and we have been on there ever since,” Perkins reported. “We are now off and that is good news. We have made a lot of improvements and we still are trending that way.”

According to a previous My Buckhannon story, eight counties were removed from the Financial Watch List in 2019, but Upshur County wasn’t one of them, although the school system’s finances were headed in the right direction, Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said at the time.

At the May 31 meeting, Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Stankus thanked the Upshur County BOE for their proactive response.

“Under this administration, we came to you to ask for things that we could see would be proactive in saving money – things like going one-to-one with devices,” Stankus shared. “We spent a lot of money, but we saved more doing that.”

“In 2017, when I came in as superintendent, and with the team, we were with this board almost $1.5 million in the deficit,” she added. “For a large organization with almost 700 employees and over 4,000 students, what that means is that sometimes you have to move money around to pay the bills. That is not ever a good place to be because we have a lot of employees who are counting on us to send them a paycheck. When you are $1.5 million in the deficit, that is hard to do.”

Stankus said in 2018, the Upshur County School System was $728,000 in the green.

“We were starting to climb out, and that was very strategic,” Stankus said. “I want to say thank you to these directors sitting here. Some of our directors have retired, but they were counting pens and pencils and not ordering things they would like to have and saying no, but we did a lot for our personnel. We had to look very strategically at our personnel because we were over by 28 [positions] in service personnel when we came into this. We had to make a lot of hard decisions.”

Stankus said by 2019, the system was $1,178,000 to the good and in 2020, approximately $2,193,000.

“Last year at this time, we were $5 million to the good,” she said. “That meant we could pay our bills; without moving money around, we could pay our employees.”

Stankus said this year, the financial scenario is going to be even better.

“It is not just because of COVID money,” she said. “We have made good decisions as a board, as leadership, and because we have written a lot of grants. We will be [having] a celebration next month of grants we have written to sponsor the innovative things we are doing in our county.”

Stankus thanked board members.

“If you are not financially sound, you cannot be healthy as an organization,” she said. “That is not always easy because you have to tell people no, but I want to say to this board I truly appreciate your support in all that we have done getting off this watchlist. It is a celebration for our organization.”

Upshur County BOE member Kristi Wilkerson said she knows getting off the financial watchlist has taken a lot of creativity.

“To everyone, I just thank you for thinking outside of the box,” Wilkerson said. “I think you did an outstanding job.”

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