Teachers make case for keeping jobs

Four more Randolph County Board of Education employees whose jobs are on the chopping block argued their cases to the school board Tuesday during the second day of hearings on the elimination of professional positions.

Randolph County Schools Superintendent Terry George made the elimination recommendations based on budgetary constraints, and each person occupying an affected position was given the chance to present evidence intended to convince the board to vote against eliminating their jobs.

George’s attorney, Greg Bailey, delivered an overview of the board’s rationale for each decision prior to allowing each affected educator and her representative to speak.

The board’s decision regarding all the affected positions will be rendered Wednesday night.

Harman School kindergarten teacher Sandra Ketterman was the first speaker Tuesday night. Ketterman’s position may be eliminated in favor of combining the kindergarten class and the first-grade class into one K/first-grade split classroom.

“This is literally about the board living within its means,” Bailey said, noting that only six kindergarten students and nine first-grade students were projected to enroll at Harman School for the 2013-2014 school year.

Bailey said Ketterman was not losing her job, and that she would still be a regularly employed teacher with, perhaps, a different assignment.

Ketterman’s representative, Frank Caputo, a staff representative with the American Federation of Teachers, argued that the quality of students’ education would suffer should Ketterman’s position be cut, saying students would be getting “half an education.”

“I really don’t know how one teacher can do this kind of job,” Ketterman said. “It’s going to be a very difficult job to work with special-needs children and the children who are working way above (grade) level. The numbers look good on paper. But every number is a child, and all of those children have individual needs.”

Caputo claimed that it was not the intention of the West Virginia Legislature “to have more split grades because it’s not conducive to learning.”

“The kindergarten/first-grade area is the absolute worst area that you can do a split grade,” he said.

Carol Teter, a first-grade teacher at Harman School, was the second speaker of the evening. George recommended Teter be transferred and her position be eliminated in favor of creating a split kindergarten/first-grade class at Harman School.

Teter – who, at the end of her hearing announced that she would be retiring at the end of this school year – said she believed George and the administration were “truly asking someone to do an impossible job when you combine special needs kids along with the varied levels of learning.”

“They demand help constantly, and whatever decision you make tonight, I’ll be OK,” Teter said, choking up. “It’s the children I’m worried about.”

Teter said she was retiring because, as an educator with more than 40 years of experience, she did not want to “bump” someone at Harman School out of a job.

“I can’t do that to one of my friends,” Teter said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Matthew McCarty – Teter’s representative and an organizational development specialist with the West Virginia Education Association – said he’d done an extensive amount of research on split classrooms, and said that the approach caused problems with effective use of instructional time and difficulties with classroom management.

Bailey defended George, saying that as the superintendent of Randolph County schools, it was George’s job to look at the county as a whole.

“When you’re looking at six kindergarteners and nine first-graders (at Harman School), closing an eye to that just wouldn’t be fair to the entire county,” Bailey countered.

Suzanne Cain’s position as a Title I/reading specialist at Homestead Elementary School was the subject of the third hearing. Bailey explained that an 8.2 percent cut in Title I federal funding – in combination with the formula that the county school system must use to distribute that funding – is the reason George recommended Cain’s position be slashed.

The funding is based on the percentage of low-income students who attend a school, Bailey said, and last year, Homestead Elementary was the third neediest school; now it’s the sixth.

Bailey said that although the school system had enough money to fund a half-time Title I/reading specialist position, there were no funds to maintain a full-time Title 1 teacher at Homestead Elementary School.

Homestead Elementary School principal Diane Hull pleaded with the board to preserve Cain’s position.

“The woman is an icon,” she said. “Don’t take away my full-time Title I teacher because she makes too much money. Our needs are increasing, not decreasing.”

Pam Hewitt, the assistant superintendent of curriculum/technology/instruction, explained that because Cain was the highest-paid Title 1 teacher in the school system, her salary and fringe benefits take the most out of Title I money, leaving less for programming.

“We take the salary and fringe benefits out first, and the rest is left for programming,” Hewitt said, prompting board member Harvey Taylor to apologize to Cain.

“It’s a shame you put yourself out there to get all your degrees, and now you’re getting punished, for that,” Taylor said to Cain, “and I’ll be the first to apologize.”

The 8.2 percent cut in Title I federal funding was also the reason George had recommended Bonnie Stalnaker-Simmons’ position be eliminated. Stalnaker-Simmons, a Title I/reading specialist at Midland Elementary School, was the fourth speaker of the evening.

“When it comes to need, Midland (Elementary School) is the very least needy school in the county, and they are not projected to receive any funding – half-time or full-time – for a Title I position,” Bailey said.

Caputo said that student need exists, despite the rankings Bailey cited.

Seven hearings had initially been slated for Tuesday; however at the meeting’s outset, George announced that three people who had signed up to speak – Coalton Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lisa Fox, Harman School fifth-grade teacher Patty Teter and Harman School third-grade teacher Amanda Dearborn – had pulled their names from the list of requested hearings.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at kkuba@theintermountain.com.