Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Superintendent Terrence Beam arrived late for the Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting Monday evening, because he was in Charleston all day, meeting with the other 54 state superintendents to discuss the possible work stoppage of school employees proposed for Thursday and Friday.

Beam said there was a long discussion about several issues and while the 55 superintendents did not agree on all points, they did leave the meeting with some resolution and scenarios for what lies ahead.

“One thing that did come out of it that I think I can say with certainty, one thing we won’t have to be concerned with, is the extracurricular activities – the sports,” Beam said. “The sporting events are going to go ahead, as scheduled, because we’re into sectionals and things. It’s not like if the teachers walk out on Thursday and Friday. There’s a possibility we can make up those days, but you can’t make up sectional tournaments. You just miss them.”

Beam said the superintendents all agreed that it would be easier to keep the sectionals on track for the basketball teams, but they also wanted to point out that this did not mean they favored sports over academics.

“What we wanted to point out – and I want this for the record – is we’re not saying that sports are more important than academics,” Beam said. “It’s just that we don’t have the opportunity to make up these sporting events where we may have the opportunity to make up the academics that students missed.”

While it is still undetermined if there will be a work stoppage, Beam said he has worked out a few scenarios and requested the right to call an emergency board meeting as more information comes forth.

“Counties are not going out right now and canceling school for Thursday and Friday,” he said. “What they are doing is waiting and seeing and hoping against hope that they can come up with some kind of decision that will appease the employees enough not to walk. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”

Beam did not want to lay out a plan of action so early in the week, in case an agreement is reached as late as Wednesday afternoon.

The school employees understand what it would mean to the county if they participated in a work stoppage and county American Federation of Teachers [AFT] representative Denise Sharp said it is not their goal to strike, but if there is not a resolution before Thursday and Friday, they will have a work stoppage.

Beam said in the event that school is canceled for Thursday and Friday, they will be treated like snow days and made up at the end of the year.

Beam added that the superintendents were informed that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, under the authority of Governor Jim Justice, may file an injunction to force boards of education to require all employees to work Thursday and Friday.

Because it is considered illegal to strike, Sharp said that if Morrisey files an injunction and employees still do not go to work, they could be terminated by the board of education for not following the order.

Beam said he hopes there will be a decision which will put an end to the work stoppage.

“I was principal in Nicholas County in 1990 when they had the last strike, and it really did pit employee against employee, and the school never really recovered from that,” he said. “We’re trying to avoid that this time. We can only go so far with it, and that’s what I wanted to talk to the reps about tomorrow. I’m going to call the principals tomorrow and give them a little bit of background information before we disperse anything to the masses. We’re going to have some conversation.

“I do believe that if no resolution comes forth by Wednesday afternoon, that all fifty-five counties are going to cancel school on Thursday and Friday and not even try to fight that battle,” Beam concluded.

The board thanked Beam for the update and agreed that it hopes a resolution can be found before the work stoppage occurs.

In updates:

• Bill Shelton, of OWPR, Inc. Architects and Engineers, gave an update on the MIP project at Pocahontas County High School to replace the wastewater treatment plant, water tower and doors, windows, roof and fire alarm system of the vocational building.

Shelton said the portion of the plans for the vocational building is nearly complete and will be ready to be put out for bid in the next couple weeks. Progress on the wastewater treatment plant has been slow due to weather issues, but the contractor is pushing to go as fast as possible to get the project completed prior to the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

Shelton said if construction continues into the school year, the current system will remain online and there will be a switch over once the new system is complete.

• Andy Cocina, of Wendel – an energy services company – gave a report on ways the board can update buildings with energy efficient projects which will, in turn, save the board money on utility bills. Cocina asked if the board would give his company permission to do a free-of-charge assessment of the school systems buildings to create a list of money saving projects.

After his presentation, the board told Cocina the issue will be placed on the next board agenda to be a voting item.

• The board approved a resolution from the Pocahontas County Board of Education to fully support a legislative wage increase for all school employees and the passage of legislation to fully fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency [PEIA].

In miscellaneous management, the board approved the following:

• To place the following policies on 30-day comment: Policy JB – Attendance Policy and Policy IE – School Calendar.

• Ronnie Gordan and Jessie Sharp as volunteer fourth and fifth grade basketball coaches at Marlinton Elementary School, effective for the 2017-2018 season.

• David L. Moore, Jr., as volunteer baseball coach at Pocahontas County High School, effective for the 2017-2018 season.

• Kenneth Beasley as volunteer fourth and fifth grade basketball coach at Hillsboro Elementary School, effective for the 2017-2018 season.

• Pocahontas County High School to conduct three weeks of out-of-season athletic practice, effective June 11 through June 30.

• Robert Mann and one chaperone to transport five students by private vehicle to Marshall University in Huntington, retroactive to February 15 through February 18, to participate in the Marshall University Honor Band Festival. All costs to be paid for by the PCHS music department and student contributions.

• Teresa Mullen to transport seven students by rental van to HEAT Hospitality Cup Competition at the Embassy Suites in Charleston, March 5 through March 7.

• P. Erwin Berry to transport three students by rental vehicle to the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky, retro-active to February 14 through February 15. Trip to be paid for by FFA/vocational funds.

In personnel management, the board approved the following:

• Unpaid medical leave of Michelle D. Wilfong as librarian/media specialist at Pocahontas County High School, effective April 17 for up to six weeks.

• Employment of Kathryn Chandler-Hall, Loretta Irvine and Kevin Thompson as substitute aides for Pocahontas County Schools, effective February 21, for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year, as needed, at state basic pay.

• Employment of Loretta Irvine and Kevin Thompson as substitute cooks for Pocahontas County Schools, effective February 21 for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year, as needed, at state basic pay.

• Employment of Loretta Irvine and Kevin Thompson as substitute custodians for Pocahontas County Schools, effective February 21 for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year, as needed, at state basic pay.

The next board meeting will be held Monday, March 5, beginning with a hearing on the 2018-2019 school calendar at 5:30 p.m.,immediately followed by a regular meeting at the board of education conference room.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com