Randolph BOE hears updates

Modular unit at George Ward not quite complete

ELKINS — Back-to-back meetings and work sessions took place Monday and Tuesday for the Randolph County Board of Education, as leaders outlined goals, took part in training for open meetings laws and heard updates as the new school year gets underway.

One update provided to board members was about the modular classroom set up at George Ward Elementary School in Mill Creek, where renovation work is nearly complete.

Superintendent of Randolph County Schools Gabriel J. “Gabe” Devono said the goal was to have the modular classroom unit completely finished by today, the first day for students. However, workers are still in the process of installing ceiling tiles and renovating the bathroom. The unit’s skirting/underpinning also will be completed as soon as possible, Devono said.

“They’ve done a great job on it,” he said following a regular board meeting Tuesday evening. “I hope they have it done soon, as soon as possible.”

Students at George Ward Elementary will be in split classrooms temporarily, he told board members, with grades three and four in one classroom and kindergarten and first grade in the music room.

The modular unit was moved Aug. 4 from the Randolph Technical Center to Mill Creek, to be used to house students from Homestead Elementary School.

School officials have said the overall estimated cost of renovating, moving and setting up the modular classroom unit should be about $15,000 or less. The board previously had considered a minimum two-year lease agreement for a new modular classroom, which would have cost $55,542.55 per year.

Board members decided in May to install the modular classroom at George Ward Elementary to allow enough space for each Homestead class to have its own room for the 2017-18 school year.

The historic Homestead school has been closed since a March 1 windstorm caused severe roof damage, and then the state fire marshal determined this spring that the school cannot reopen without major electrical upgrades.

Board members also voted in May to proceed with plans to close Homestead Elementary for the 2018-19 school year, and they will move forward with closure hearings sometime this fall.

During the public comment session of Monday’s special meeting, concerned citizen Maggie Bennett shared concerns that the modular unit would not be ready for the new school year, and she also said she is worried about vandalism and a lack of security at the Homestead building.

Devono said he would look into her concerns, and he provided an update about the status of bids for roof repairs and asbestos abatement at Homestead during his report to the board.

Prior to Monday’s special meeting, board members took part in a training session about the state’s open meeting laws, which was led by attorney Jason Long of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP of Lewisburg and West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull.

The two-and-a-half-hour training session included detailed discussion about how public boards are legally required to advertise meetings, post agendas, conduct business, consider matters in executive session, record minutes, etc.

“The thing to remember is, you are elected to serve the public and you are elected under very specific procedures,” O’Cull said. “Our decision making in West Virginia is indeed driven by the open meetings law.”

O’Cull said these apply to all public bodies in all counties, and he is happy to share training throughout the state.

Board members had some questions about sharing emails, sharing information and scheduling special meetings, as well as how to avoid discussions about potential board action — which are only allowed during meetings.

They also discussed the appropriate way to handle questions from the public or staff regarding issues that must either be handled in a public meeting or by the superintendent’s office.

Devono said this board seems to have a good grasp of what is allowed under the law, and he acknowledged that sometimes members of the public do not understand how the board is required to operate.

“These board members have no power” unless they have a quorum of three to five people during a public meeting, he said. “They don’t have any authority to act outside of meetings.”

Long mentioned that some boards make the mistake of going into executive sessions for the wrong reasons, or for an issue that is not listed on the meeting agenda.

“Oftentimes we’d like to change the agenda, but we don’t have that luxury,” he said.

O’Cull and Long told board members no votes are allowed in executive sessions, with the exception of student expulsion matters.

Board members thanked them for leading the training session and answering their questions.

“I think you’ve really done a nice job,” Board President Donna Auvil said after the training. “I appreciate that you’re working with Mr. Devono, and it was nice that the board and staff came.”

During Tuesday’s regular meeting, Auvil said she hopes the new school year goes well for everyone, and she urged area motorists to use caution as schools reopen for students.

“I hope the public drives safely … and watches for children at bus stops and along the roadways,” Auvil said. “Please, let’s have a safe opening day.”

Board member Janie Newlon shared similar sentiments.

“I wish all the teachers good luck … and hope they have a good first day of school,” Newlon said.

Today’s first day for students will be a three-hour early dismissal, to allow for additional training for school teachers and staff.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, board members met in a work session to outline their major goals.

They decided on three sets of goals, including the following:

• Monitoring the financial operation of Randolph County Schools by working toward being removed from the West Virginia Board of Education’s “Watch List;” working within the state aid funding formula; and closely reviewing expenditures and revenues

• Increasing communication and community trust by improving visibility in schools and community events; and working to involve community stakeholders in the school system

• Monitoring and providing support for student achievement in Randolph County by reviewing accountability and test scores; providing academic resources for teachers and students; and evaluating the progress of student test scores

The next regular meeting of the Board of Education is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5 at the board office building in Elkins.