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Wood County board may cut certification bonuses

Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Michael Erb Frieda Owen, retired assistant superintendent of curriculum for Wood County Schools, speaks Tuesday in opposition to a proposed change in the district’s National Board Certification policy.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel photo by Michael Erb
Frieda Owen, retired assistant superintendent of curriculum for Wood County Schools, speaks Tuesday in opposition to a proposed change in the district’s National Board Certification policy.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A proposed change to a Wood County Schools’ policy would significantly reduce the bonus given to teachers and other professional staff achieving national certification.

National Board Certification can be achieved by teachers, counselors, nurses and speech therapists who complete an exhaustive self-evaluation process and successfully pass a rigorous National Board Certification test in their area of expertise. Sixty-three Wood County Schools employees now have National Board Certification.

For years, the school system has matched a $3,500 bonus given by the state to teachers as well as covering some fees and testing costs not paid for by the state. Several years ago the district also began paying a $2,500 bonus to non-teacher employees who receive national certification.

This week the Wood County Board of Education placed Policy 4113.5: National Board Certification on a 30-day public comment period. A modified policy presented Tuesday reduces the annual bonus to $1,000 a year and does not allocate money for fee and testing reimbursements.

Finance Director Connie Roberts called the newly proposed bonus “a generous offer” and said the change would save the school system “about $200,000 annually.”

The move comes after board members expressed fears the school system’s contingency fund, which is made up of unencumbered funds left over from the previous fiscal year, was insufficient and did not follow state recommendations.

The state Department of Education suggests a school system keep 3 percent of its total budget in reserve for emergencies. For Wood County Schools, with an annual budget of $110 million, the contingency fund should be more than $3 million. This coming school year officials estimate the contingency fund will be only about $62,000.

Several people spoke against the proposed change Tuesday, saying the board has successfully used National Board Certification as a recruiting tool and reducing the bonus sends a negative message to educators and other employees.

Frieda Owen, retired assistant superintendent of curriculum, helped establish the program and policy for Wood County Schools’ teachers. Owen said of 110 teachers who sought certification since the program began locally, 96 achieved certification.

“It is a three-year process,” Owen said, requiring exhaustive self-documentation and the completion of multiple exercises as well as the final exam.

Owen said as an administrator and mentor, as well as a representative of the board, she has spent years recruiting teachers to seek the certification with the promise of a $3,500 bonus.

“I respectfully request that you continue to honor this commitment,” she said.

Candace Lewis, who was recently named Wood County Teacher of the Year, called National Board Certification “the most rewarding journey so far in my career in education.”

Lewis said earning the certification has improved her as a teacher and has bolstered learning in her classroom.

“NBCTs have a significant impact on student learning,” she said. “The group that will be hurt the most (by the change) is the students.”

Millie Stoneking, a teacher at Parkersburg High School and president of the Wood County Education Association, said the board and administrators are wrong in looking only at teachers and service personnel as possible areas of savings.

“Teachers and service personnel feel targeted,” she said. “They feel undervalued and underappreciated but with more expectations heaped upon them.”

The board is looking at several other areas of possible savings, including overtime and extra help pay, supplemental duties and administrative pay.

Roberts said Tuesday she would not recommend a reduction in funding of dental premiums, which was something mentioned as a possibility during the board’s May 12 meeting.

“The cost is less than $70 per year per employee to continue the program as is,” she said. “The savings would be minimal and it would affect so many people. We’re not recommending any change.”

Roberts also said the information presented Tuesday was not the end of the discussion.

“I believe this is one of many discussions we will have during the year about our contingency and fund balance,” Roberts said. “It’s not a simple task. There is not just one thing to consider.

“I would love to do everything for everybody. I just don’t see how we can continue doing that.”

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