After more than two hours of discussion, the Barbour County Board of Education voted Monday to move all the county's fifth-grade classes from elementary schools to middle schools for the 2014-2015 year.
Board members Eric Ruf, Dana Stemple and Bob Wilkins voted in favor of the move, while Doward Matlick and Joanne McConnell voted against the proposal.
Barbour County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super said the idea to move the classes was born after the board received requests for more room by the elementary schools' Local School Improvement Councils.
"The LSICs all requested more space in the schools when we visited the schools last fall and winter," Super said. "This is a proposal based on their request for more space in the schools."
Marjorie George, transportation director, gave preliminary estimates of bus time for students should they be moved to their respective middle schools. Potential times on the bus ranged up to a high of 68 minutes. George said the state's recommended bus time for a middle school student is less than 45 minutes.
Jack Reger, Title I director, said many West Virginia counties utilize the fifth-grade-through-eighth-grade middle school model.
"Currently, 21 counties (in West Virginia) have 5-8 middle schools," said Reger. "The middle school philosophy began in the 1960s. Originally, middle schools were to encompass grades 5-8, recognizing that kids at that age level have particular needs focused on academics, physical needs and emotional needs. They wanted to create a particular environment to meet these needs of the whole student."
Glenn Sweet, director/manager of attendance, facilities and technology, illustrated with a visual aid the difference in capacity and utilization of each of the elementary and middle schools in the county. He showed that by moving the fifth-grade students to their respective middle schools, utilization of the middle schools would increase, and the elementary schools would have more room.
"The capacity at Belington Elementary School is 521 students," Sweet said. "That is how many students will fit in that building if everything is scheduled perfect."
Sweet said utilization shows how the space is being used.
"The State Department has a fudge factor that they call recommended utilization," Sweet said. "They look at 85 percent being the prime utilization of a building for it to be economically feasible as well as functionally feasible to operate."
Sweet said the prime utilization of Belington Elementary School is 442 students.
"At Belington Elementary, during the second semester this year, we had 341 students," Sweet said. "That means our utilization is 65 percent. If we move the 51 fifth grade students from that school, the utilization drops to 56 percent."
McConnell asked what the state would think of the drop in utilization.
"In general, the state would say we are not utilizing our dollar value," Super said.
Other utilization figures Sweet listed include Junior Elementary utilized 66 percent and will drop to 56 percent without fifth graders; Mt. Vernon Elementary School is at 36 percent utilization and will drop to 28 percent by moving the fifth grade; Volga-Century Elementary School is at 31 percent utilization and will drop to 24 percent utilization; and Philippi Elementary School is currently at 67 percent utilization and would drop to 58 percent utilization by moving fifth grade. Sweet said Belington and Philippi Middle schools are in the mid 40-percent range and would raise to the mid 50-percent utilization with fifth grade added into the school.
McConnell and Matlick asked how this move would save money. Finance Director Annette Hughart said the move would be "a wash" and would result in no savings to the school system.
Super again reminded the board that the proposal was not made as a savings mechanism, but in response to the LSICs stating that elementary schools needed more space.
At that time, Wilkins said funding earmarked for state Public Employees Insurance Agency payments for school system employees was underestimated in the school system's budget by $90,000, due to preliminary information provided by PEIA.
"We did get some clarification from the West Virginia Department of Education, the office of school finance, (saying) Barbour County Schools did not make an error or underestimate the PEIA portion of the budget - which we didn't think that was what happened - but it was misleading the way some of that got worded," Wilkins said.
"We used the state figures to do our budget. After our budget was approved and submitted to the state, we were notified of the actual amount, which is about $90,000 more than the figure the state gave us the first time," he said. "This resulted in an increased expense and we have to work with the figures the state gives us. Unfortunately, the true amount is considerably different from what the school system was told to use. Hopefully, next year the state will have a more realistic preliminary number to give us to work with.
"If misery loves company, we were not the only county facing this particular situation," Wilkins said. "One example: the state was more than $500,000 off for Kanawha County."
The next regular meeting of the Barbour County Board of Education is slated for 6 p.m. July 22 at the Board of Education Office in Philippi.