By Stephen Smoot
Next year’s calendar and funding reports dominated discussion as the Pendleton County Board of Education commenced its business for the year.
The board opened the meeting with the first of two public readings of the calendar guidance document provided by the state. The law requires that the public have at least two opportunities to hear the document in front of a quorum of the school board.
The calendar guidance specifies that regular full-time employees have a minimum employment term of 200 days, “exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays.” The employment term also may not exceed 48 weeks. Students’ instructional term is still established at “not less than one hundred eighty (180) separate instructional days and twenty (20) non instructional days. Those include holidays, Election Day, and other days set aside for students and professionals.
Both the employment and instructional term may be extended by the board, but the county has to pay for the excess.
Different grade levels also must meet for specified numbers of minutes per day. Kindergarten through fifth grade must have at least 315 minutes of instructional time per day, sixth through eighth 330 minutes, and high schoolers have 345.
State law requires that county boards add “equivalent time,” or minutes to the minimum instructional day to compensate for “early dismissals, late arrivals, and faculty senate meetings.” This can help schools and school systems meet their legally set time mandates. Equivalent time helps school systems to receive up to five professional learning days, replacement days for closure due to inclement weather, or balance off late arrivals and other erosions of instructional time.
As directed by the state, the Pendleton County Board of Education conducted a survey on the calendar. They received 169 responses – 78 from parents, 73 from staff, 12 from students, and six from other members of the community. A majority vote of 101 voted to begin school in mid-August, but conclude it at the end of May. Votes also chose a full spring break week over a four-day weekend and chose October 20 over Columbus Day as an extra professional learning day.
The law also prevents the school system from releasing graduating seniors more than five days before the close of the instructional year.
The board will use the survey and public comments to help to determine the final 2023 calendar, which must be submitted by May 5.
After the public reading of state calendar guidance and reviews of the surveys, regular business was conducted. J. P Mowery, director of finance, delivered the funding report. He opened by speculating that “I do expect a pay raise to be passed. The Governor is asking for a five percent raise.” This would be part of Governor Justice’s pledge to have two five percent raises before he leaves office. Mowery said, “The funding is there if they choose to do so.”
He then went through county-by-county preliminary computations for state support of schools. Mowery saw no changes that were out of line. He noted that counties with natural gas are “growing through the roof. Local tax numbers in natural gas counties are amazing,” but Pendleton County is “at our financial capacity of what we can do.”
While “enrollment drives funding,” as Mowery put it, the state supports sparsely populated counties by providing a funding floor of 1,400. This means that counties that do not enjoy high tax revenues and have less than 1,400 students enrolled can be funded at that number. Pocahontas, Summers, Ritchie, Tyler, and Webster also fall in this category.
Mowery praised House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Delegate Paul Espinoza from Jefferson County. He said that Speaker Hanshaw, from Clay, “understands small counties.” Espinoza worked with counties to deliver more flexibility in how they use state aid. Mowery also reported that the school system currently enjoyed “the lowest workman’s comp rates we have ever had.”
In other business, the board approved a dual credit course arrangement with Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College. The new courses, Introduction to Sociology 203 and Speech 101, will be part of a program to help aspiring teachers at Pendleton County High School get college credit. Program students would then be on track to graduate from college with an education degree in two years.
Board members also heard an update on the new bleachers for Franklin Elementary School. A Charleston based company already on state contract will come to the school to examine the gym and provide a quote.