Small schools struggle with enrollment

PHILIPPI – Despite the Barbour County Board of Education’s vote to keep Mount Vernon and Volga Century elementary schools open, some teachers and parents of VCES students say they have realized that their fight isn’t over.

With fifth-graders moving from elementary schools to middle schools in Barbour County next school year, VCES teachers and the school’s Parent Teacher Organization have realized the school’s low enrollment, which was a cause for the closure consideration, will be further affected by the move.

“Some of us feel as if we were set up for failure,” PTO President Lorie Rifenburg said, adding that the BOE decision gave the school another year. “What are we going to do after that year with 20 kids? It’s going to come right back around. They’re going to say ‘we’re going to shut you down the next year.’ We have nothing to stand on with only 20 kids. We really don’t, and we have such a great community.”

Some parents with children attending VCES, who also attended the BOE meeting, stand by their opinions about the quality of the small school.

“My children have been in schools all over the world, quite literally,” Rebecca Shumway said, “and I have never seen a school like Volga Elementary, a school with so much heart that treats these kids as more than test scores, but as individuals. They identified my son’s special needs when Philippi Elementary couldn’t. … This school has brought him out and drawn him in. It’s amazing, the transformation I’ve seen. He loves this school. It’s so less chaotic. He’s happy for the first time.”

Although the community has expressed gratitude for the board’s decision to keep the schools open, they acknowledge that the fight may not yet be over.

“We worked very hard at the beginning of the year to keep it (VCES) open,” Rifenburg said, “and we thank you for your votes, but it’s not just keeping us open this year. We have to look forward. Taking our fifth-grade cuts our numbers tremendously.”

VCES teacher Anna Davis said the school only will have two teachers next year. Davis said there is a need for another staff member and for both kindergarten and preschool programs.

“Knowing of this need, we would like to get the board’s word that any additional pre-k teachers be assigned to our school to aid students and teachers in school-wide goals, decisions, collaboration and activities,” Davis said. “Please remember it is not a request made solely on our wishes, but on a legitimate need.”

Parents and the PTO organization also are asking that kindergarten and preschool programs be reintegrated into the VCES school.

“We have over 20 parents who have come to us and said ‘if you have pre-k and kindergarten, I want my child here,'” Rifenburg said. “What are we supposed to tell them, because we don’t know. We have to have answers.”

Rifenburg said parents in the VCES school zone have told her the bus ride to Philippi Elementary School is too far. She also said that there are four kindergarten classes at VCES. She said some parents told her if their child had to ride the bus to Philippi Elementary, they would not send him or her to preschool.

“That is holding them back from their early childhood education,” Rifenburg said. “It should not be that way. They deserve a chance just as well as everybody else.”

In other business, members approved the 2015 fiscal year budget for the general fund and will be sending that budget off for state-level approval. Total estimated revenues in the general fund is $18,057,507. The total estimated expenditures are estimated to be the same. For the special revenue fund, the BOE is estimating about $4,120,750 for both revenue and expenditures.

This year, balancing the budget has been a struggle for the central office staff, both Superintendent Dr. Joe Super and Financial Director Annette Hughart have said at past meetings.

“We’re borrowing from our future,” Hughart said. “By the end of (fiscal year) ’15, we could potentially be in the deficit.”

“We have a lot of cuts compared to (fiscal year) ’14,” Hughart later added.