Barbour BOE struggling to keep trust

The Barbour County Board of Education has been the subject of much criticism on this editorial page in the past year. Therefore it is important that we point out when the board is doing something right.

This week, the Barbour BOE has held public hearings at Volga-Century and Mt. Vernon elementary schools, both of which are proposed for closure.

In announcing the hearings, a release from the Barbour school system noted that the public could attend, and would be able to submit statements, testimony and questions.

In an editorial, we urged the Barbour BOE and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super to respond to those questions and provide information to the public face to face.

This week, Super and the board did just that, answering questions presented to them from among the more than 70 individuals who spoke during the two hearings.

Speakers were given three minutes each to make their points. Although some of the hundreds of people who came out to show their support for the schools were a bit loud and obviously angry – particularly at Wednesday’s hearing at Mt. Vernon – Super and the board members remained calm and showed respect for the public.

We applaud the school officials on their appearances at the hearings. Another is scheduled for Tuesday at Philippi Elementary School, which is where the students from Volga-Century and Mt. Vernon will be bussed if the schools are closed. It is safe to predict that some of those attending Tuesday’s hearing will also be angry.

Here’s hoping the board members and Super maintain their cool on Tuesday as well. We also hope they will genuinely listen and take the speakers’ points into consideration before making the final vote on the proposed closures in two weeks.

The Barbour BOE is struggling to keep the community’s trust, which was nearly lost when the board voted to do away with middle school sports for financial reasons last winter, and was shaken again this week.

A story on today’s front page details how the president of the grassroots organization which raised and donated the funds to keep Barbour County middle school sports alive discovered that some of the funds were being spent at the county’s high school.

School officials say it was just a mistake and won’t happen again. But Lori Talbott Wetzel, the woman who spotted the error, isn’t giving them the benefit of the doubt.

“We just want the community to know that we are keeping a close eye on the funds they helped us raise,” Wetzel said this week. “We are holding the central office (of the Barbour County Board of Education) accountable for every penny spent from this restricted account.”

Clearly the Barbour BOE and Super have some bridge-mending to do with the residents of their county. Taking the public’s thoughts and desires into account before voting to close the schools might go a long way toward achieving that goal.