By Stephen Smoot
With school just around the corner and some team sports already starting, the Pendleton County Board of Education met in its first regular session of the month. In the opening prayer, J. D. Wilkins, school board president, asked a blessing “for students who are starting school and those who have already started.”
The board held a quick session the week before to approve new hires and volunteers. In this meeting, they approved the posting of an extracurricular elementary music position before moving on to finance.
- P. Mowery, director of finance, discussed bills coming up for payment. This included approximately $12,754 for the upper section of the Pendleton County Middle/High School gymnasium wall, replacing the “Irish Spring” green with a uniform white from floor to ceiling. Mowery said, “Nice job by them.”
He also discussed the expenditure of approximately $40,000 on cybersecurity protection from Malwarebytes and a $37,000 replacement of an old lift by Otis Elevator Company.
The board also heard about two programs that have provided technological help to students and teachers alike. Nicole Hevener described the impact of Pathful Plus, which helps students to focus on career exploration. She said that “students love to interact with it.” Federal grant funds paid for the program, but will end soon.
Carrie Nesselrodt followed up by discussing a program named “Schoolology” which provides technological support for lesson planning, communication, and a number of other functions. Nesselrodt told the board, “I can’t imagine teaching a classroom without it.”
She went on to discuss a recent trip by eighth-grade students to Washington, DC. COVID had cancelled their traditional sixth-grade trip. Nesselrodt quipped that “the kids were probably more excited about the charter buses than the trip itself.”
Next, Mowery described slight upward adjustments in some benefit costs. The Guardian dental plan for school system employees went up $1.28 a month while dental plan costs rose by 53 cents a month.
He then discussed two broadband projects in progress. The first, an ECF project done in conjunction with the Pendleton County Library with help from the economic development authority, hit a number of procedural issues, mostly involving power poles. Originally, work by MGW Lingo was to be completed on Aug. 23. The new deadline is June 30 of next year.
Shentel’s projects in Franklin and South Branch Mountain, however, are “well on target” and should be completed by Aug. 9. Mowery noted that “the Shentel project has done very well.”
Next came news of a reduction in payment from the Secure Rural School Fund. The federal government provides these funds to counties with significant federal lands. They work like “payment in lieu of taxes” with local governments.
The fund payment to Pendleton County dipped from about $120,000 in the previous year to approximately $80,000 in 2023. Officials explained that part of the reduction came from sequestration legislation designed to reduce the federal deficit. Another slice was made due to the fact that Pendleton County’s personal income rose by 25 percent in the intervening period.
Income includes funds and assistance from all sources, including federal help to individuals during the pandemic. While the population remained flat, more money went to more people, causing the allotted funds to decrease.
Mowery explained, “We have a good budget reserve, a budget surplus, but keep in mind that headwinds are coming.” He mentioned the end of federal pandemic assistance, “food inflation, inflation in general,” and other factors that the board must prepare for.
The next board meeting will be on Aug. 15 while the first day of school will be Friday, Aug 18.