Friday, September 04, 2015

As coal slips, so do school rolls in coal communities, putting some schools at risk of closure

Some coal communities are seeing low enrollment numbers in public schools—because of the loss of coal jobs—and fear that fewer students will lead to less funding and could put schools at risk of closing. In Boone County, West Virginia (Epodunk map), parents are concerned about rumors that Jeffrey-Spencer Elementary School will shut its doors, Hillary Hall reports for WOWK 13 in Charleston-Huntington. The school has 109 students.

"While the Boone County Board of Education could not confirm if the school was slated to be shut down, Superintendent John Hudson did say that the county has lost millions of dollars in taxes and if the school were to close the decision would need to be made by December," Hall writes. Christian Foster, mother of a special-education student, told Hall, "A lot of us are prepared to do whatever we have to do. Until it's set in stone and they say it's closed and the books and teachers are out of is building, we're not going to quit."

In Eastern Kentucky, enrollment in the the Pike County School District is down by more than 200 students this year, the third time in four years enrollment has gone down, Chase Ellis reports for the Appalachian News-Express. The district reported 8,600 students this fall, down from 8,887 at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. (Kentucky Department of Revenue map: Pike County)

Director of Pupil Personnel Joe Moore told Ellis, “We lose money for every kid that we lose. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s more than $20 per day per student that we lose. If jobs were created, if the coal industry was able to come back, if people didn’t have to move away for jobs we wouldn’t see this, but we are." (The News-Express is behind a paywall.)

Arkansas isn't really a coal state, but it burns coal, and the proposed shutoff of a coal plant in White Bluff—local officials are phasing out coal for natural gas and solar and/or wind power—could have a drastic effect on the White Hall School District, which is the biggest local beneficiary of taxes from the coal plant, Emily Walkenhorst reports for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In 2013 the Jefferson County (Wikipedia map) school district closed Redfield Middle School because of low enrollment and reduced financial viability.

Supt. Larry Smith said that if the plant closed completely, it would result in an estimated $1 million in losses for the school district, which has an annual budget of $25 million, Walkenhorst writes. Smith told her, "That's 17 teaching positions that you would lose funding for. We couldn't cut 17 teachers right now because we would be out of compliance with standards."

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