FOSTER — Jeffrey Spencer Elementary School and Nellis Elementary School both remain on the school closure list, according to officials with the Boone County Board of Education.
The board made the annoucement during its regular session meeting Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, at its operations complex in Foster.
Boone County Schools Superintendent John Hudson and Board of Education President Mark Sumpter answered questions and gave out information on the process of closing schools in the county. Both confirmed that Jeffrey Spencer and Nellis remain on its list of schools to close by next school year.
“Closing small schools is not something we want to do,” said Sumpter. “There is just no way around some school closures when you look at our budget.”
Boone County Schools has lost around $6 million in the past few years alone in funding, Hudson said.
“We must follow West Virginia Board of Education policy 62-04 and that policy will be available at all schools targeted for closing and those receiving students as well,” Hudson said.
Following a 30 day posting period, a public hearing will be held at Jeffrey Spencer Elementary on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, Hudson explained.
Also, Wharton Elementary is also on the closure list. It has a hearing on Nov 2. There are notices on all the school doors about a hearing at Nellis on Nov 9 and a hearing for Wharton on Nov 2, in addition to Jeffrey Spencer on Nov. 19.
“That is when the public will be able to speak and we will present our plan,” Hudson said.
He said written comments would also be accepted.
“Our tax collections for assessed values is way down,” Hudson said. “For both the regular levy and the excess levy we are down about $5 million in just the past few years. We see this downward trend continuing and have to be financially responsible and make some very unpopular decisions.”
Hudson said Boone County continues to see enrollment declines.
“We are down 147 student from this same time last year and that will cost us another $1.1 million,” he said.
The Board of Education took in 50 percent less funding in Sept. than was projected at this time last year.
State cuts in state aid formula to county schools is also being cut and Hudson says the county will lose another half a million dollars this school year.
“We are on the state’s critical watch list due to our severe cuts in funding and our budget,” Hudson said.
Former Boone County Board of Education member Letha Dent voiced concerns and asked questions for most of those in the audience supporting keeping Jeffrey Spencer open.
“I know the big word is money, but larger classrooms will hurt students,” said Dent. “I don’t see why we can’t get rid of some of the high paying jobs in the county school system, cuts some assistant principal and assistant superintendent’s pay or even positions and keep these schools open.
Dent believes Ramage students will also suffer. That is where the Jeffrey Spencer students will go next year, if the school is closed.
“Over-populated classrooms doesn’t help any students and I think the students should be the priority here,” Dent said.
Sumpter said the number of things being cut by the county school system was “mind-blowing.”
“We are making lots of cuts across the board,” he said. “We are not just closing some schools. If we had it our way we would keep all of our schools open. But with $6 million lost in funding, it creates difficult decisions.”
Sumpter said he and all the board members understand all of these cuts are hard on communities.
“Just look around the state and the county,” he said. “We understand it’s hard, but the trending data shows it will get worse before it gets better. No school is safe going into next year. Traditionally smaller school are the first under consideration for closures and that is unfortunate.”
Some called for elimating sports or arts at schools.
“We could cut every single sports team, band and art stuff and that still would not get us even close to the $6 million we have lost,” Sumpter said.
After the public hearings at Nellis and Jeffrey Spencer schools, the board will have until the end of the year to finalize and vote on a plan and if that includes closing the two elementary facilities.
Fred Pace is an editor for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-369-1165, ext. 1661, in Madison; at 304-752-6950, ext. 1729 in Logan; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @fcpace62 on Twitter.