Jones questions BOE about deficit

ELKINS – Elkins resident and retired teacher Bob Jones once again questioned Randolph County Board of Education members about its large deficit during Wednesday’s regular meeting. Jones initially asked officials about the more than $990,000 deficit during the Feb. 19 meeting.

During that meeting, Jones said it was his understanding four years ago, the board had close to a $1 million surplus in the county. He said with the surplus and the deficit that is basically $2 million that has been spent over the past four years over and above tax collections, levy monies and grant funding.

“I received a certified letter from the superintendent and I had hoped it would explain how we got to the $996,000 in debt,” Jones said Wednesday. “I was disappointed. It was simply a financial statement that was published in The Inter-Mountain.”

Jones said he was back before the board and that he would continue to come back until the taxpayers of the county get some answers.

“Where did the $600,000 surplus that we had and the $996,000 deficit come from?” Jones asked.

“Superstorm Sandy was one of the reasons listed for the loss of money. What money did we actually lose during that storm. Food, probably. But didn’t the federal government reimburse some of the food that was lost.”

Jones said he totally was confused that the board did not know there was a deficit until September.

“As long as I am here, and the people of the county are not getting their answers, I am not going to let it go,” Jones said. “I am asking that you do the right thing and let us know where that money went.”

Board member Bruce Haddix read a letter he drafted saying the funds were used “to remodel Elkins Middle School, Third Ward Elementary School, the demolition of old Elkins High School, electrical upgrades at George Ward Elementary, a new heating system at Valley Head, extensive upgrades to meet the State Fire Marshall and BRIM punch lists, cost sharing for athletic lighting at Elkins Middle, Tygarts Valley and Elkins High schools.”

The letter also said money was used for new roofs at Coalton, Harman, Midland and the central office and the free hot lunch program extended to all Randolph County students. In addition, Haddix’s letter said extra cost was created when 16 employees were hired through ARRA funds and the funding ended after two years. He said the positions are scheduled to be eliminated in 2014 and 2015.

Board member Harvey Taylor said he thinks the treasurer is doing an awesome job.

“But I feel the only way to eliminate this and not do it every board meeting is set up a special meeting Tuesday and invite Mr. Jones and any Randolph County people that are worried and get this over with,” Taylor said. “We can ask questions and they can ask questions.”

Board President Lisa Wamsley asked Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Terry George to advertise a work session for Tuesday, and George said he would do that.

George said one thing Jones failed to mention in his letter was that he was invited to come in to see him.

“He was invited for a private session with myself and the chief financial officer, Mr. (Brad) Smith, where we would explain whatever he wanted to know,” George said. “He is still invited to do that.”

Wamsley said board member David Kesling would not be available for the Tuesday meeting.

George asked Wamsley to consult with board members and give him a date for the special meeting.

Also during the Randolph County Board of Education meeting, members voted to accept school year 2014-2015 draft calendar No. 2 by a narrow margin. George recommended calendar two be approved and submitted to the West Virginia Department of Education for their approval.

The board sponsored two public meetings asking students, parents, teachers, staff and concerned residents to weigh in on the formation of the calendar. The board also sponsored an online and paper survey for those not attending the meeting to put their views forward.

Three calendars were devised by a calendar committee, based on the results of the input, which were given to school employees for their vote. George said 73 employees voted for calendar one, 406 voted for calendar two and 71 voted for calendar three.

Calendar two has the first date for teachers as Aug. 12 and students reporting to school Aug. 14. Planned days off would be Sept. 1, Labor Day; Oct. 3, Forest Festival Friday; Nov. 4, Election Day; Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day; Nov. 24 to 28, Thanksgiving Break; Dec. 24 to Jan. 2, Christmas Break; Jan. 19, Martin Luther King’s birthday; April 3 to 6, Easter Break; and May 25, Memorial Day. The last day of school for students would be June 5.

“We included all three calendars for the board to consider because it shows that the staff prefers calendar two,” George said. “We have allowed the staff to vote on the calendars for the past few years. We are not advocating any one of them, but we ask, that you the board, select one of the calendars. Once you vote on that, we will submit it to the State Department of Education for approval.”

George said they are working diligently to stay within the guidelines.

Ed Tyre made a motion to accept calendar two because it seemed most school personnel voted for it.

“I would like to have calendar one,” Tyre said. “But that is 73 to 406. I don’t know how we can go against number two – all school employees voted for this. I can’t tell them their input means nothing.”

Taylor said he disagreed with Tyre.

“This board has said they want to get the first semester over by Christmas,” Taylor said. “Here is an opportunity that the first semester will be over by Christmas. I am not disrespecting any teacher in this county. I want to make sure everyone understands that. But I am looking at the 180 days and if we can get that first semester over by Christmas and have school end by May 24 or 25, if we have to make up school days we can.”

Taylor said he is just looking to get kids out of school by June 30.

“If we have kids scheduled until June 5 and we have the same kind of winter as this year, our students will go to school until June 30,” Taylor said.

Haddix said they need to consider the students.

“If the semester ends by the Christmas Break, they don’t have a break in learning,” Haddix said. “I would prefer to be able to teach straight through with the least amount of interruptions.”

Haddix and Taylor voted not to accept calendar two while Tyre, Wamsley and Kesling voted to accept calendar two.

Board members also took the following actions during Wednesday’s meeting:

Recognized the winners of the Randolph County Schools Spelling Bee.

Received a presentation on ArtsBank from Coordinator Bill McWhorter and ArtsBank instructor Sarah Ferguson.

Received a report from Donna Simmons, director of special education on student referrals for special education.

Received a report from Elkins High School student body president Corey Crumm about payment of advanced placement testing.

Voted to ratify a disposition for an Elkins High School student. This matter was discussed by board members in executive session. During that session, Tyre came back into the board meeting and said he was not going to stay in the executive session because “they were not talking about what they went into executive session for.”

The next Randolph County Board of Education meeting is slated for 6 p.m. March 19.