While students and staff relax and enjoy their summer, Pocahontas County Superintendent of Schools Terrence Beam and members of the levy committee have been hard at work preparing information for public forums.
Beam has been candid and persistent in his discussions concerning the levy, and he hopes community members will attend the forums to ask questions and gain clarity on why the levy is important.
Last week, Beam and the committee met with OWPR Architecture Group to review plans and discuss visuals the firm will provide for the forums.
“They showed us some preliminary floor plans which we have since, as a committee, adjusted,” Beam said. “They are working on a virtual 3-D presentation to be able to show people. They can literally ‘walk’ in the buildings and see where everything is.”
The committee has yet to schedule the forums, but Beam said they will be soon. In the meantime, he continues to speak to concerned individuals and tries to answer all the questions he can.
“The first thing we need to say is that every single cent goes to buildings,” he said. “Not one penny goes toward salaries, benefits or any other things. That’s what I keep hearing, and I don’t understand why people haven’t heard all of this yet.”
In order to keep the public involved and informed, the levy committee plans to have information booths at the RoadKill Cook-Off and Autumn Harvest Festival and at home football games at Pocahontas County High School.
Beam said the number one question he gets from the public is “why are the buildings in such bad shape?” He explained that many issues with the school buildings are attributed to age and the way buildings were designed 50 years ago.
“Fifty years ago, we weren’t concerned about security systems,” he said. “Now obviously our world has changed and security systems are a great big deal. People are really concerned about the safety of their children more than anything. We didn’t think about that then. You left your doors open at home and your car running in the driveway. Now you don’t do any of that stuff.”
When the school buildings were designed, it was impossible to foresee the increase of technology in education and now, the schools have reached their capacity for electricity.
“The rooms in some of these schools only have two outlets in them,” Beam said. “Now you need them everywhere for all the technology and things you use. That’s a small thing in a way, but electrical capacity – if they look at these prices of the electrical updates for these schools – they’re going to say, ‘$200,000?’ They are going to be shocked.”
The issues which arose in the school buildings were addressed as well as possible, but the school budget never allowed for the complete upgrades needed at each building.
“If we did, say update the electricity in one school, that would shoot your entire maintenance budget for the whole year, so what would you do with the other things?” Beam said. “The legitimate question that I’ve heard people ask is why did we let them get in this shape. Like I say, we simply don’t have the money to spend to prevent things from happening. We have to be reactive, rather than proactive because we don’t have the money to be proactive.”
The levy is designed to match a West Virginia School Building Authority grant which the Pocahontas County Board of Education received in March. The SBA grant, in the amount of $20 million, is contingent upon passage of the levy. In short, no levy, no grant.
Beam stresses that the levy is important, not only because it ensures the SBA $20 million grant, but because the SBA, like most government funded entities, is losing funding. This is more than likely the last time the SBA will consider a project of this nature.
“This opportunity that we have to get this money from SBA will never come again,” Beam said. “David Sneed, who is the executive director of the SBA is going to come and speak at the first meeting we have. He’s going to explain that.”
Beam said he has heard many concerns about the use of the money. If the levy passes and the grant moves forward, the money must be used for the proposed project and only the proposed project.
“The SBA monitors all of that,” he said. “There’s no way you could get by with spending it on something else. You can’t supplement someone’s salary with it. You have to do reports all the time so that every single dime is accounted for.”
Through it all, Beam remains optimistic and looks forward to meeting with the public at the upcoming forums.
“I will attend the forums, but I want to have the committee members do most of the talking,” he said. “I think it’s important to the community to hear from their neighbors. We have a chance to really make our school system better.”