With the new year fast approaching, Pocahontas Coun-ty Superintendent of Schools Terrence Beam continues to focus on creating an open dialogue with employees and community members, and finding ways to improve the school system.
There are many things – good and bad – that are on Beam’s mind, but one that stands out is the most recent decision by the board of education to purchase the former Moose Lodge in Buckeye and relocate the board office to that property.
The decision has met with some opposition, but Beam said – at the end of the day – the move is what the board thinks is best for the school system.
“We’re spending money that we couldn’t spend any other way, and now we’re going to be able to save flood insurance money plus a lot from the cost of heating this building,” Beam said of the current office building. “This is a two-story building that’s huge and it’s not heat efficient whereas this will be much more efficient. It’s a one-story building and it will save us money in the long run.”
The board closed on the purchase last Friday and Beam said the plan is to be moved into the new building by next summer.
“We’re going to hire a young man to do renovations to our building,” he said. “We don’t know how long it will take him. Even though we will use our maintenance guys to install the heating system, the schools will have to come first. If there are issues at the schools, they’re going to have to work on that.”
For the transition, Beam said the board office employees will take turns moving their offices into the new building so that there will always be people at the office. They also plan to use their own time to paint their offices and to move their belongings from the old building to the new.
“It would be an easier transition to do it in the summertime when there are no students in school and half of us could keep working while the other half move their offices,” Beam said. “They’ve talked about getting Day Report possibly to come in to do some of the painting and stuff, but if not, the people that work in this office, on their own time, are going to paint their own offices.”
As for the current board office building, Beam said there is a decision that needs to be made about its future.
“It would cost us more to demolish it than it’s worth,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to see us demolish it. It’s just my personal opinion. We’ll be letting the [Cub Scouts] know and the [Pocahontas County] Art Guild and all the people with offices in the building that we’ll be cancelling the insurance on it and cancelling the heat at a certain point. We haven’t decided when that is.”
The board is always looking for ways to save money and Beam said there are a few new state and federal policy changes that have made way for possible savings or new revenue to the board.
One policy in particular is regarding the number of professional personnel the board receives funding for from the West Virginia Department of Education. Much like the state aid formula for students, the professional personnel rules have changed in a manner that will benefit Pocahontas County.
The state aid formula regulates how many students the school system receives funding for. For many years now, Pocahontas County has received funding for 1,400 students although the student body is fewer than that.
Using that formula, the state department determines how many professional personnel a school system should hire. For instance, a school system with 1,400 students could be told it is allowed to hire 100 professionals and the state will provided funding for those 100 professionals.
Beam explained that if a school system was allotted 100 professionals and only hired 98, the state would only fund 98 positions. This year, the formula has changed.
“Now, you are funded for the entire one hundred, so if you’re able to cut positions through attrition – if people leave and you can say, ‘we can tighten our budget here and not lay people off, and we simply won’t rehire positions’ – let’s say you hire ninety-five positions, the other five you’re funded at about $75,000 a head, then you have a $350-, $375,000 excess that you can put in your budget,” Beam said.
The state does not require the extra funding to be used for professional personnel, so the money could be used in the general fund for other costs.
While it is not a popular system with teachers and principals, Beam said it is important to look at all positions and see, when a teacher retires, if there is a way to combine that class with another instead of replacing that teacher with a new employee.
“For instance, at Hillsboro, we cut a teacher that would have had eight kids in their class,” Beam said. “We don’t have the luxury of affording that anymore, and if you look around the state, other counties have split grades. I think this year, they have sixteen split grades in Nicholas County. Now that the state is giving us this flexibility not to have to go up to that total number – you’ve got to remember, we’re being funded for 1,400 kids, not 1,000, so we’re already getting about twenty teachers more than most counties get for the number of kids they’ve got.”
With that flexibility, Beam plans to be responsible and look at ways to combine classes or positions to better help the school system as a whole.
“I’m not saying go out here and lay off a bunch of people,” he said. “What I’m saying is when someone leaves this school system, don’t fill that job automatically. If you absolutely have to have it – and there will be some jobs that you absolutely have to have – but there’s some you can say, ‘let’s transfer this person who only has twelve kids this year into this position and save us $75,000.’ That’s what you’ve got to do.”
Other sources of revenue have also come open – both new and old. Beam said he recently received correspondence from Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Senator Joe Manchin who are both fighting to continue funding of the Secure Rural Schools program – locally known as the forestry money.
Beam also recently met with Denise Campbell, former West Virginia Delegate and community liaison for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Campbell requested to meet with Beam to discuss progress of the project and possibilities of funding for the school system.
As for other future endeavors, Beam said he plans to continue to be open to the public and welcomes questions from concerned individuals.
“I love answering questions,” he said. “I hate just shooting from the hip because it seems self-serving. I would rather answer the questions that are on people’s minds.”
To submit a question to Beam, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or Suzanne Stewart, c/o The Pocahontas Times, 206 Eighth Street, Marlinton, WV, 24954, and this reporter will ask the questions for a future article.