At the Board of Education meeting on Mon. night, President Dr. William Simmons was happy to announce that the local school board had regained partial control of the county school system.
The return is provisional, for a period of two years, and the OEPA (Office of Educational Performance Audits) feels that while a lot of progress has been made, there are still some areas where the State needs to maintain control. Therefore, if problems arise, the State could take back over at any time.
Board members approved the "Memorandum of Understanding" between themselves and the State Board of Education, acknowledging that they will still be under the close supervision of the State.
The State will continue to control facilities, personnel matters and all financial decisions related to facilities. According to the MOU, "A county superintendent will be appointed through an agreement made by the State Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education of the County of Gilmer. The starting date will be June 30, 2014...."
The local board will now be back in charge of "creation, review, repeal and approval of local policies and the creation and approval of the school calendar." They will control transportation matters, curriculum decisions and financial matters, "except those related to facility matters."
Furthermore, the board is to receive training from the WV School Boards Association.
Dr. Simmons said during the recent exit interview with the OEPA team, they commented, "We think you are in full compliance." He also noted they were positive about the forward movement of the board. Dr. Simmons also gave a lot of credit to Superintendent Ron Blankenship for all the work he had done. "And he's done it without any fanfare," said Simmons.
One subject, however, that continues to plague Gilmer County is the CEFP (Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan). This was the main reason that full control was not returned to the local board. Dr. Simmons indicated that they were hopeful for funding for a consolidated Gilmer Elementary School, but said they must have a contingency plan. "We can't run [all three remaining elementary schools] either way," he said.
Board member Phyllis Starkey was concerned about not being able to make financial decisions dealing with facilities. "The roofs are leaking at Sand Fork and Troy. They need to be fixed," she said.
Mr. Blankenship assured her that the roofs were going to be fixed and someone has been called in to patch them and stop the leaking. While the gym roof at Troy Elementary had been worked on a couple of years ago, the work was not satisfactory and, consequently, there has been plastic on the inside of the gym ceiling to catch the water and plastic hoses draining the water outside for a long time.
Board member Tom Ratliff spoke up concerning the hiring of teachers at the new Crooked Run School at Linn. "We should have input in personnel for the new school. We need to have a say for our teachers," he said.
Janeeva Jenkins, a 9th grader at Gilmer County High School, gave a presentation on her summer experience at the WV Ambassador's Camp. After this presentation, and the one she gave earlier to county commissioners, Janeeva is now an ambassador for the state for the rest of her life.
Mr. Blankenship mentioned the school closing hearings that have been scheduled, but there was no discussion at that time.
Mrs. Starkey reported on the most recent meeting at the Calhoun-Gilmer Career Center. The center was selected to receive a portion of the MIP (Major Improvement) monies that were awarded on Mon., Dec. 9. They will receive $414,169 for tile, plumbing, painting and parapet wall caps. Fifty thousand dollars of local money was dedicated and, according to Starkey, an additional $30,000+ may be secured to complete all necessary work.
Part of this is dealing with the waterline extension project.
Under consent agenda discussion, a new policy was mentioned, but never discussed at all. The policy states that all students participating in certain extra curricular activities shall be required to complete a "Student Drug Testing Consent Form" and will provide a hair sample as part of their annual physical.
According to the policy, after the initial testing, students can be randomly selected to provide another hair sample for testing. Furthermore, they can be tested at any time "when there is reasonable suspicion to test for illegal or performance-enhancing drugs."
The policy has not yet been adopted, but it is expected to be approved at a future meeting.
Five more students have transferred to Normantown Elementary, one of the county's highest performing schools, from Braxton County, bringing that school's enrollment number up.
A total of 10 new volunteers were approved to help out in schools across the county.
Dr. Carl Armour, a board member, expressed his concern about the dropping enrollment numbers. Gilmer County Schools lost about 40 students since the 2012-13 numbers were submitted. According to Dr. Armour, that's a loss of about a quarter of a million dollars.
Once the designated students go to the Leading Creek School in Lewis County, Gilmer County will lose even more money.
Interestingly enough, when the school is opened at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, Lewis County will not even require 6th grade students to attend the new school, since they would have already been at the middle school for one year. Therefore, one can assume that the majority of students will be from Gilmer County.
Lewis County will be paid for those students as per the State funding formula.
During delegations, this reporter asked the Superintendent about the timing of the school closure hearings. According to Mr. Blankenship, these meetings have to be held in the event that the county would receive funding from the SBA (School Building Authority) for the new consolidated elementary school, so he is planning ahead.
Since there will be no decision from the SBA until April 2014, it seems planning these meetings so far in advance is really "putting the cart before the horse." It was also suggested that attendance may be slight if weather conditions were to turn bad during the month of January.
In reference to Dr. Simmons' earlier statement, it was asked if "Plan B", in the event that Gilmer County doesn't get the requested money from the SBA, would include proposing a levy for the building of two schools. Both Simmons and Blankenship said, "No."
Teacher Kim Bonnett and several of her peers were in attendance to represent the GCEA (Gilmer County Education Association) and the teachers of Gilmer County. They are working with the WVEA (West Virginia Education Association) to get the word out about a competitive pay salary campaign.
Bonnett reported that currently WV teachers rank 48th in the nation for the wages they receive. This causes problems in recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers.
It also results in low morale, as teachers are working longer hours and have more demands put upon them, but haven't received an increase in pay. In addition, less and less high school graduates are pursuing degrees in education, due to the low pay.
Norma Hurley, a Normantown resident, also spoke to board members, as has become a monthly ritual. She had several questions, but didn't seem to expect answers to them.
She asked, once again, what students would be sent to Lewis County. The information she has collected indicates that some students from Sand Fork Elementary will have to be pulled into the new school to meet the required number of students.
Hurley questioned why the budget for the 2013-14 school year has not been published and wrapped up her statements saying the MOU was an "insult to this board."
School Closure Meetings
Throughout the month of Jan., the school board will host meetings at each elementary school to explain the school closures. The board proposes to close Glenville, Normantown and Sand Fork, effective at the end of the 2016-17 school year. The students would be reassigned, commencing with the 2017-18 school year, to the new Gilmer Elementary School.
The Troy school is scheduled to close at the end of the 2014-15 school year, with students being reassigned to the Leading Creek Elementary School.
Written reasons and supporting data for the school closures are available for inspection in the Superintendent's office for 30 days prior to the public meetings. Any member of the public may speak and ask questions, but they must register to speak before the meeting begins.
All meetings will be held in the schools' gymnasiums and will begin at 6:00 p.m., with registration to speak beginning one hour earlier. The schedule for the closure meetings is as follows: