ELKINS, W.Va. — The closing of Valley Head Elementary School and the long-term code issues with Homestead Elementary Schools are just the tip of the iceberg for the Randolph County school system.
“The state Board of Education is monitoring the financial status of the county,” Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Pam Hewitt said.
The financial status–or “watch list” status–for Randolph County schools is a result of a number of problems.
First, Randolph County carried over less money from the previous fiscal year than is considered standard.
“Getting us in line with getting our enrollment to match our staffing and to get our finances more in line so that we are working and living within our means,” Hewitt said.
Second, voters rejected three different school levies in the past year. According to Hewitt, the Board of Education surveyed voters extensively to find a package that might be amenable to the electorate.
“It was indicated that if we would consider shorter terms and a smaller amount that we would be given more support,” Hewitt said. “We attempted that, and it really made no difference.”
As of June 30, 2016, the county has been operating without the 2.8 million dollar per year levy that voters had adopted five years previously.
Third, and seemingly a common issue in larger, rural counties, the student population is declining.
“Based on the number of students we have, we are overstaffed in both professional and service personnel in our county at the present time,” Hewitt said. “Which is a direct result of the number of schools we have open in the county.”
That presents another problem, according to Hewitt.
“Enrollment is directly related to the amount of revenue that we are provided through the State Aid Formula,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Randolph County Board of Education began exploring the possibility of closing two schools: Valley Head Elementary School and Homestead Elementary School.
On December 16, the Board of Education voted to close Valley Head, primarily due to low enrollment.
“With only 26 students presently enrolled in the school, keeping that building open was certainly not cost-effective for the county,” Hewitt said.
Those students will all consolidate in 2017-18 with George Ward Elementary School without increasing staff size.
Valley Head and Mill Creek, where George Ward Elementary is located, are about 15 miles apart.
On December 19, the Randolph County Board of Education unanimously voted not to close Homestead Elementary School in spite of concerns over the building’s state code issues.
“It’s an older structure, and it’s in need of a good bit of renovation and repair,” Hewitt said. “We have some concerns about that building.”
“That building has not been able to be utilized with students on the second floor for that reason.”
The original plan that the county Board of Education rejected called for the 106 students at Homestead Elementary School to split between George Ward in Mill Creek and Beverly Elementary School in Beverly.
“I think there was some concern about the children, about the attendance zone that currently serves that school, being split and students going in kind of two opposite directions,” Hewitt said.
Splitting up the students was one of several deal breakers for supporters like Tom Renix, a member of the Tygarts Valley Homestead Association.
“This would cause an undue hardship on those families,” he said last week on MetroNews “Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval.” “It would waste a very good location. The building is structurally sound. It just needs some modern updates.”
You can read more about Homestead’s issues by clicking here.
Regardless of what Hewitt recommends or the Board of Education decides, a number of tough decisions may lie ahead.
“Randolph County is a very large county,” she said. “That also comes into play when you look at the amount of time children can be on a bus and so on and so forth.”