County BOEs discuss working together

ELKINS – Board of Education members and school superintendents from five area counties gathered in Elkins Wednesday for a regional meeting as mandated by West Virginia Code.

Held under the umbrella of the Regional Education Service Agency (RESA 7), education leaders from Barbour, Preston, Randolph, Tucker and Upshur counties convened special meetings of their respective boards in the conference room of the Elkins Inn and Suites.

Dr. Howard M. O’Cull, West Virginia School Board Association executive director, explained, “Over the years, going back as far as 1972, RESA’s role in education has evolved. The initial idea was a result of educational funding during the Johnson years. In 1989, reform legislation was adopted during the Moore administration that allowed the county boards of education to share central office administrative personnel.

“During the 90s, efficiency became more important, especially in terms of school closures and mergers, increased use of technology in classrooms and more centralization of educational policy,” O’Cull said.

“Declining student enrollment has been a concern for some time. Less than 10 of the state’s 55 school districts are expected to see increases during the next two decades,” O”Cull said.

He pointed to the Marsellus Shale natural gas boom as one area where there is hope for enrollment increases, primarily in the western area of the state.

O’Cull pointed out that in his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Earl Ray Tomlin supported the concept of having locally elected officials answerable to the tax payers and parents for the operation of the local schools but questioned the need for the current administrative system in each of the 55 counties.

The goal of the session was to bring leaders from different school districts together in a workshop setting to explore ways the individual counties can combine or share central office and administrative services or functions to help the individual districts operate more efficiently.

“Information from this session will be combined with results from other workshops within RESA 7 and across the state and presented to the state school board and the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability,” O’Cull said.

After O’Cull’s remarks, the education leaders were split into workshop groups and began discussing ways to increase efficiency. Each group would then report to the entire gathering what areas were suggested for inclusion in the report.

The report will include those areas that were identified that may be shared between the counties, an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of sharing services in each instance and a process for implementing recommended changes.