At the Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting Monday night, members of the School Building Research Committee, led by Jay Miller, presented a proposal to research the reasons behind the failure of the recent proposed school levy.
Miller, joined by Sue Groves, Michelle Jeffers, David Litsey and Allen Johnson, said the committee, with the support of the board, put forth a plan to survey voters to determine why the levy failed.
“I’m part of a committee of community residents that wishes to assist the board of education in researching the reasons why the recent school levy referendum did not achieve a majority of support from county voters and also to determine what kind of building referendum could succeed in the future,” Miller said. “We are all committed to doing what we can to resolve the need to upgrade the school facilities in the county.”
Board member Joe Walker addressed the committee and asked why its members did not offer help when the School Levy Committee was promoting the issue.
“Six months ago we were seeking help to pass our levy,” Walker said. “Other than Mr. Litsey, I never saw any of you step forward to help us at that point. Furthermore, Mr. Johnson was our very opposition on the radio. But now we’re sitting here today, and you’re asking us to invite you in to critique our efforts in what we were doing for the county.”
Miller said he understood that the board was not involved in the initial plans which ultimately led to the call for the levy.
“It is my understanding that the proposal that you all were defending up until the election was something that had been put together well over a year ago and that you all were brought in kind of after the fact to defend what had already been proposed,” Miller said.
“I don’t know where you got that information,” board president Emery Grimes said, “but that didn’t happen. Jay, you can get a hundred different reasons, but people didn’t vote for the levy because they didn’t want to pay the extra money.”
Miller countered that the levy received 37 percent of the vote, and he said the committee believes it is possible to get 50 percent plus one, which is all the levy would need to pass, if the levy speaks to the public.
“We think that there is a levy or some kind of a measure that could pass that would address sufficient issues that people have that are not directly related to taxes,” Miller said.
Grimes said the issue is not whether a new levy can get enough votes because the School Building Authority will not offer the same grant that led to this levy.
Last year, the SBA approved a needs project to repair or replace Marlinton Elementary School, Marlinton Middle School and Green Bank Elementary-Middle School. The grant was contingent upon the county passing a levy. When the levy failed November 8, the grant funding set aside for Pocahontas County was put back into the SBA fund and doled out to other counties.
Prior to the call to vote on the committee’s request, Walker addressed the collective again and said he appreciated their proposal to help the board, but he could not give his endorsement.
“I think it would be very nearsighted of us not to realize the effort you’re trying to put forth, nor what it could accomplish to our benefit, however, do understand, for me in particular, this became very personal for me over the course of the last six months, so with that, I hope you understand why I’m not willing to accept your generosity so openheartedly as I normally would have,” Walker said. “I certainly encourage you all to continue to do this at your own will, but at this point, for me to tie myself as a board member to an organization like this, I don’t think it’s in my best interest to do that.”
Johnson spoke up and said he would be willing to remove himself from the committee if that would change the board’s decision, but Walker said it wouldn’t change his mind.
Miller said the committee could not go forth without the board’s endorsement because the committee would need access to board employees to get a better understanding of why they did or did not vote for the levy.
Litsey added that he is very concerned for the schools and the students, and in the end, he will support the board no matter what decision they make.
“I’m afraid,” Litsey said. “I’m afraid for those children at Green Bank that sit next to that repaired boiler. I’m afraid for the kindergarten kid here, if that sprinkler system goes off, I know what’s going to happen to those pipes. We need to, as a county, address those issues.
“Whatever you guys decide, that’s fine,” he continued. “We’re going to support you no matter what. We’re going to try to help find the money no matter what because, to me, as a lifelong educator, the concept of potentially a kindergarten kid getting burned up in a school because the system failed is beyond comprehension. We’ll work with you no matter what.”
The board unanimously voted against endorsing the School Building Research Committee.
The committee did not state whether it will continue with its plan to survey the community.
Board approves pursuit of Innovation in Education grant
Math coach Joanna Burt-Kinderman presented information to the board concerning the grant application for an Innovation in Education grant.
Burt-Kinderman applied for a similar grant last year, but did not receive the funding. She said she tweaked the proposal and resubmitted this year.
The new grant proposal focuses on using STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] education to solve the school’s and possibly the country’s energy issue. The proposal includes a large focus on the vocational department which will help manufacture items designed to solve energy problems.
“Through a series of conversations we decided to start with solving the problem of energy – understanding energy and all its implications,” Burt-Kinderman said. “It’s a fine time to be doing that in West Virginia – thinking about the economy of energy; the technologies of energy; the politics of energy. You can see there’s a pretty wide range of use people can do.”
If the grant is approved, Pocahontas County High School will receive $300,000 over the course of three years to supply a maker’s space, teacher stipends and funding for a summer institute.
“This maker’s space would have a high end 3-D printer and a plasma cutter which means we could basically create our own windmills,” Burt-Kinderman said. “We could create structures for solar panels. We could create all kinds of stuff.”
The grant will include partnerships with Green Bank Observatory and professors at West Virginia University to implement ideas to solve the energy crisis.
Burt-Kinderman said the grant committee will contact her in December if she is a finalist. At that point, she and Superintendent Terrence Beam or a board member will go through an interview with the grant committee in Charleston. By January, the funds will be released for use.
Burt-Kinderman said she is asking the board for two things, if the grant is supplied. Once the three years of funding is complete, the board will have to find a way to sustain the program.
“The proposal asks you for two things,” she said. “One, if the students create some major energy saving at the high school, you will give a portion of the savings back to the program to continue to buy materials for the maker’s space. The second thing I’m asking you for is, should this prove to be successful – there’s a lot of measures we’re taking – so if those measures increase graduation rates, GPAs, people’s enjoyment of school, people’s interest in going into STEM fields be it college or vocational, if those things look successful, then you’re promising to continue paying for once a month leadership meetings for staff.”
The board thanked Burt-Kinderman for her presentation and asked her to let them know if the grant is approved.
In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:
• Andrew “Frosty” McNabb and Steven D. Mick, Jr., as volunteer assistant boys basketball coaches at Marlinton Middle School, effective for the 2016-2017 season.
• Allysa H. Dunbrack as volunteer cheerleading coach at Marlinton Middle School, effective for the 2016-2017 season.
• Jimmy Vandevender as volunteer assistant boys basketball coach at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, effective for the 2016-2017 season.
• Innovation in Education memorandum of understanding between Pocahontas County Board of Education and WV Department of Education.
• Policy IKJ – Pocahontas County Schools Athletic Policy.
In personnel management, the board approved the following:
• Employment of Tina L. Jackson, as cook for the SPLASH program at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, retroactive to October 10, through the end of the 2016-2017 school year, two hours per day, four days per week, at $12 per hour.
• Employment of Nikki Alikakos as ELA tutor/enrichment instructor for Project SPLASH, at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, at $20 per hour, effective November 30, for up to 25 weeks, seven hours per week.
• Employment of Michael F. Hudson and Aaron L. Pugh as substitute teachers for Pocahontas County Schools, effective November 30, for the remainder of the 2016-2017 school year, as needed, at state basic pay based on degree and experience.
• Employment of Jean O. Srodes as wellness coordinator for Pocahontas County Schools, retroactive to the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, $25 per hour, 28 per week, not to exceed $700 per week.
• Employment of the following as wellness coaches for schools as indicated, effective November 30, for the remainder of the 2016-2017 school year, one hour per month, $20 per hour: Katherine LaFleur, Green Bank Elementary-Middle School; Gina A. Hardesty, Hillsboro Elementary School; Diane L. Delfino, Marlinton Elementary School; Jessica A. Hays, Marlinton Middle School; and Abram J. Rittenhouse, Pocahontas County High School.