April 19 – KINGWOOD – One issue the next Preston County school board will likely have to tackle is the fate of schools in Rowlesburg and Fellowsville.
Candidates for positions on the board of directors were asked to give their opinion on the matter during a discussion with the editorial board of the Dominion Post on Monday. The interview covered both local and national topics that can, have or will affect the quality of education in the county.
Some candidates who were not available will have the chance to interview the jury next week. Each contestant answered the same seven questions and was given two minutes to answer each.
The first session was attended by current BOE Chairman Jack Keim, who is running for re-election; Lucas Tatham, owner of Modern Homestead in Reedsville; and Steven Wise, who moved to Preston County two years ago after working in higher education for 40 years.
Schools in Fellowsville and Rowlesburg should be approached together, Keim said.
“I have said this from the start, I will not be voting to close either of these schools unless there is a plan in place ready to take effect of what we are going to do. with these facilities,” he said.
Although selling the schools, estimated to be worth between $15 million and $16 million, is an option, Keim doesn’t think they would achieve that value by selling them. The facilities are to be used to improve Preston County, he said.
Keim said he had a plan, but explaining it would take longer than the allotted time.
Tatham agreed there needed to be a plan and he understands the finances, but closing schools is killing communities. He pointed to vacant schools in many towns in Preston County.
“Preston County has, I think, suffered a lot from the consolidations,” he said. “There needs to be a creative plan, mainly because politically Preston County is very diverse with many different communities that are geographically far apart. If we close schools, we close communities and they won’t vote. for excessive withdrawals.
Tatham suggested using the buildings for adult education or other programs. Arrange for one to focus on science and math and make it a privilege to attend once or twice a week.
Wise said he thinks there are alternatives other than just looking at how much it costs to educate a student at a given school.
“The beginning of my approach to closing a school is what closing this school would do to this community. And of course we can look for alternative plans, but the question is whether or not those alternative plans would continue. to add so much value to the community,” he said.
The Fellowsville school is a hub for the community and acts as a community center, Wise said. Closing the school would harm the community in ways that those in the county understand due to previous closures.
With two years remaining on the excess levy, a solution can be found, Wise said.
In the afternoon session, the editorial board spoke with Debra Felton, Preston County educator for 40 years; William Tribett, a 25-year Navy veteran with a Ph.D. in financial planning who moved to the county five years ago; and BOE member Jeff Zigray, who taught for 35 years at Preston and still a substitute at Morgantown.
Felton graduated from Rowlesburg High School, taught at Rowlesburg School, and now lives in the city. Its closure is a fatality in his mind.
“It won’t break anyone’s heart more than mine if the school in Rowlesburg has to close,” Felton said. “But we’ve gotten to a point where it’s, I honestly believe at this point that the state will shut it down before the county has to.”
She said she had looked at current enrollment figures for this year and next and had tried for two years to bring home school children or people from the area who were taking their children to another school. , but the numbers just weren’t there.
Fellowsville doesn’t have Rowlesburg’s low enrollment and could be watched for a few years, she said.
The first thing Tribett would do would be to look at the cost of keeping schools open versus closing them. For Fellowsville, if it’s closed, students can go to South Preston, where they will go after graduation anyway.
Enrollment in Rowlesburg could be increased by creating an alternative school for single-grade problem students and only one school would be closed, Tribett suggested. Then the board should decide what to do with the Fellowsville school.
Ultimately, it will depend on the almighty dollar, he said.
Zigray has already voted to close both schools and was the only board member to do so, he said.
“Financially at that time we didn’t have a levy and we were in bad shape. So we cut a lot of places that we shouldn’t have cut and one place was janitors,” Zigray said. “To go back to high school, ‘Why is it so dirty there?’ Well, we just don’t have enough janitors to clean.”
Another problem is that of split classes – a teacher must juggle multiple grade levels in the same class while managing the different abilities of students in each grade. Zigray said it was hard work for a teacher to do.
“You hate a school closing, you know, they’re the heart of the community,” Zigray said.