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Levy loss has Randolph County weighing school closures

ELKINS, W.Va. — A failed attempt to renew the current education levy has left the Randolph County school system’s financial status uncertain moving into the future – and officials are preparing for the possibility they may eventually have to close a school.

The Randolph County Board of Education voted unanimously to amend the county’s 10-year Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan Tuesday, identifying Homestead Elementary School as a potential closure school, joining Valley Head Elementary on the list.

The updated plan will now be sent to the West Virginia School Building Authority and the West Virginia Department of Education.

Before the Board voted, Assistant Superintendent Rich Carr updated officials on the proposed changes to the C.E.F.P report, which included an amendment to finalize a Board decision adding Valley Head to the closure list, project and student population updates and an energy report for each of the county’s facilities.

Carr noted that although Valley Head has been added to the list, there are no immediate plans to close the facility.

After Carr’s report, Board member Harvey Taylor asked Finance Director Brad Smith if the county school system could afford to keep all its facilities open without the financial support of a levy or bond call.

“We were told a year ago if the levy fails, it would be hard to handle the budget with that many schools,” Taylor said. “If we run a levy in May and it fails, can we operate all the schools without a levy?”

Smith replied it would “continue to be difficult.”

“We’ll be operating at the minimal or below, as far as being able to upkeep the facilities and so forth,” he said. “If we have a rebound in student population, that could change the whole picture – but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Smith said if school populations continue to drop at the rate of recent years, it will accelerate the financial issues.

“We’re operating well below the state average of number of kids in a school,” he said. “Anytime you’re doing that you’ll have a hard time.”

Taylor brought up multiple, significant maintenance concerns at Homestead Elementary School, including a leaky roof which could create mold concerns this winter, asbestos under the floors, an outdated electric system and plumbing issues. The building is also in need of a new heating system and windows.

“I’m just looking at what’s going on with Homestead right now and I wonder if we have enough (funds) if the ceiling falls in – or to remove the mold,” he said.

Superintendent Pam Hewitt said Homestead is a huge concern for school officials.

“I’m really worried that the phone could ring anytime to tell us that we have major issues up there,” she said.

Board member Donna Auvil said her biggest concern is safety.

“I don’t want someone to get hurt,” she said. “It’s all about the kids and safety.”

After further deliberation, board members unanimously agreed to revise the presented CEFP by adding Homestead Elementary to the closure list.

“We’re in a situation there and I’m just looking at the future,” Taylor said. “I don’t want (officials) to be working hard and have to come back and say ‘where are we going to get the money?'”

Later in the meeting, board members unanimously approved the revised C.E.F.P. for submission to the WVSBA and WVDE.

“At any time, we can bring this back to the board and we can change it,” Hewitt said. “It’s not like we’re closing the schools. We’re just trying to look at where we are right now.”

After the meeting, Hewitt said the closure status of Homestead Elementary documents the poor conditions of the building and the areas that need to be improved. She said the roof is currently leaking and maintenance staff have been working diligently to patch it in an attempt to reduce the leaks.

“The administration and Board members are concerned about the safety and well-being of the 123 students and 18 staff at the school if the school continues to deteriorate,” she said.

Hewitt emphasized it’s essential for everyone to understand the Board did not approve closing Homestead Elementary during Tuesday’s meeting.

On June 2, officials voted to add Valley Head Elementary to the closure list, citing a dwindling student population and financial concerns. During that meeting, Treasurer Brad Smith projected the annual cost of running the school is $350,000 to $500,000, with a cost per student equating to between $10,000 to $12,000 each year.

Harman School, Coalton Elementary and Homestead Elementary Schools had been listed as closure schools on the original CEFP when it was drafted in 2010, but those schools were released from the designation in October 2014.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

Hewitt unveiled banners purchased using grant funds that will be placed in all county schools promoting the importance of good attendance.

Officials agreed to allow Elkins High School Band Director Joseph Bowen, Hillary Barlow and band students to travel from March 6-11 to Orlando by charter bus, where the band will participate in a variety of entertaining and educational events at Disney World. Of 103 band students, 95 will be attending. The trip will be funded using EHS Band Dollar Accounts and Levy dollars. Substitutes will be paid for using EHS General Fund and Band Auxiliary funds.

Tygarts Valley High School Senior David Ratzer, serving in the role of student representative to the board, presented to officials about the diversity of clubs available at Tygarts Valley Middle/High School. Some of the clubs available to students at the school include Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Recycling Club, Walking Club, Skiing/Snowboarding Club, Chess Club, Art Club, Guitar Club, Anime Club, Archery Club, National Honors Society and Book Club.

“I think there is just about a club up there for everybody,” he said.

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