A wish made publicly by hundreds of community members came true Monday as the Barbour County Board of Education voted unanimously to keep Volga-Century and Mt. Vernon elementary schools open.
The Philip Barbour High School auditorium was packed with students, teachers and parents, many of whom erupted into cheers, hugs and high-fives after the board voted.
BOE President Bob Wilkins first called for a vote to close Volga-Century Elementary. As it seemed everyone in the room was holding their breath, board member Joanne McConnell looked back and forth among her fellow BOE members. When she saw no one was holding their hand up, she began to cry what seemed to be tears of joy.
Wilkins then asked for a vote to keep Volga-Century Elementary open, and every BOE member threw up a hand in support. Following another unanimous vote to keep Mt. Vernon Elementary open, Wilkens dispensed with the vote on consolidation with Philippi Elementary, saying that vote was now unnecessary.
In mid-August, the Barbour BOE proposed closing Volga-Century and Mt. Vernon in order to save about $700,000 annually and avoid major renovation costs.
A dozen residents spoke in front of the board members before the vote was taken Monday.
Tom Wetzel asked members to consider four things.
"Remember the offer of assistance from Matthew 25: Ministries," Wetzel said. "Also, consider waiting for a few more years to see the effects of Alderson Broaddus University, oil and gas and the coal mines bringing in more folks to the areas."
Before voting, the board members asked some questions of their own.
BOE member Eric Ruf asked Superintendent of Barbour County Schools Dr. Joseph Super to restate the offer from Matthew 25: Ministries made in the spring. The ministry group has for the past 10 years helped with maintenance, cleaning and products at Mt. Vernon Elementary, along with providing cold-weather clothing for the school's students.
"I believe I forwarded all that information to you at the time," Super said. "There was a statement made from Matthew 25 that continued funding was contingent upon Mt. Vernon staying open."
Ruf asked Super if there was a time limit for how long Matthew 25: Ministries would continue to donate goods and services to the school.
"No sir, there was not," Super said. "I believe in the past there may have been a time limit for 10 years, but that was before I came here."
Ruf asked Super if the offer was to provide paper products.
"It was to provide paper products, and continue what they were currently doing, I imagine, paper products, cleaning fluid," Super said. "It is my understanding that it was contingent on the board keeping that school (Mt. Vernon) open.
"Overtures were made, not by Matthew 25, but by representatives at the school, that Matthew 25 would provide funding/supplies to all schools. I do have the communication that I would be glad to share with you, that Matthew 25 did not stipulate to that. They said they would help, but not to the extent indicated."
Board President Bob Wilkins said he did not hear any stipulations when Matthew 25 made their presentation during an earlier hearing.
"Again, I can provide you clarification where they indicated the help was contingent on the school staying open," Super said.
McConnell said she had a conversation last week with Matthew 25 official Tim Maddy.
"He reiterated that they have been supportive of Mt. Vernon Elementary for the last 10 years during maintenance work and various projects around the school," McConnell said. "He said last summer, the roof work they did was roughly a $5,000 price tag. He did talk about the paper products that would be available would be worth $274,000.
"He said he brought 60 volunteers into the county and could bring 150 volunteers and he would very gladly support our schools," McConnell said.
Super said he did not deny that Maddy said that, but the superintendent stressed he also has correspondence indicating Maddy could not guarantee he could supply that amount on a yearly basis.
Board member Doward Matlick also said he had talked with Maddy, and was told Matthew 25 was still willing to work with all Barbour County schools.
"He shared that same conversation with me at different times," Matlick said.
Wilkins said that even though you cannot count donations like Matthew 25's into the budget, the money saved can be used for other things.
McConnell and board member Dana Stemple inquired about the projected savings of more than $250,000 in transportation costs if the two schools closed.
"I don't understand how you could have that much savings unless you got rid of a couple of bus drivers," Stemple said.
Glen Sweet, director of facilities, said the calculation of $250,000 savings was completed by taking the mileage that will be saved and multiplying that by $4.88, the figure issued from the West Virginia Department of Education as a per-mile expense.
Stemple said that when he took the number of miles saved per day - 80 - and multiplied that by the $4.88 cost, and then multiplied that by 180 days, the savings came to about $72,000, well shy of the predicted $250,000.
Before the final vote, Super asked board members to consider some points.
"No one up here wants to be in the position of thinking about closing schools, and I am sure I can speak for all of the staff when I say this is not where we want to be," Super said.
"We did try to address the financial concerns of the county in presenting a levy to the public that would have addressed all schools," Super said. "Before I came on board, I went to the state to address issues related to other schools in the county, and at that time, I asked them for an efficiency study. It stated that if finances could not be found, that consideration should be given to closing schools."
When the meeting was dismissed, some of the residents rushed forward to give board members hugs and thanks for oting to keep the schools open.