About 20 members of the public attended the Feb. 25 Wetzel County Board of Education public meeting, regarding changes to the county's school calendar.
These changes stem from legislation passed during the 2013 West Virginia Legislature that requires all West Virginia students to attend school for 180 days. This means that each day cancelled for inclement weather must be made up. In the past the employment term for employees had been a detriment to this. In the past the 200-day employment term for school employees had to be completed within 43 weeks of the start of the term. Now this has been lengthened to 48 weeks, gaining about 25 additional days that are to be used to ensure students attend school for the required 180 days.
In the past early dismissals and delays were not made up. As long as the students attended school that day, it was counted as an instructional day. Now the time lost to delays and early dismissals must be made up. County school systems must come up with a plan for accomplishing this.
Each county is required to hold two public meetings for the purpose of gathering input relative to the school calendar and the new requirements. The second school calendar public hearing in Wetzel County will be held March 11, 6 p.m., at Magnolia High School.
There will no longer be ISE (Instructional Support and Enhancement Days) as have been held in the past. There have always been five such days. In the past Faculty Senate meetings have been held on these days. With the new requirements, Faculty Senate must be held once every 45 days, but it must be done on a non-instructional day. If held on an instructional day, the lost time must be made up by students and staff.
Wetzel County Schools' calendar must be submitted to the West Virginia Department of Education by May 1.
Assistant Superintendent Jay Yeager said that if a school dismisses early because of a particular problem, such as a water or heating problem, "The school has to make up that time," he said. "Each day has to be made up." Yeager said the time could be made up through accrued time. "Schools are allowed to bank time based on the number of minutes through days," he said.
Yeager said that high schools "go a little bit longer, but not a lot longer." However, he noted, "It's more difficult for high schools to bank time than it is for elementary schools." Yeager said assemblies and school-wide events must be made up and can be done through accrued time. Yeager said that the school can't have a pep assembly or "donkey basketball" during the day and count it as instructional time.
Wetzel County Superintendent Dennis Albright clarified that as long as assemblies meet Content Standards and Objectives, they would count as instructional time.
Yeager stated that students could not go to school up into July because of the fiscal year, but students could very well go into the middle or end of June.
Wetzel's school calendar does need to be similar to the calendar of Ritchie, Tyler, and Pleasant counties because of students attending the Mid-Ohio Valley Technical Institute and North Marion High School Career Center. These institutes are moving their start time up to 9 a.m.
Yeager then shared statistics from the Survey Monkey survey that the community was invited to participate in. The amount of participants in the survey as of the morning of Feb. 25 were 1,081. It is still available at www.surveymonkey.com/s/WetzelCountySchools2014.
As for when school should start, 55.81 percent of those who participated in the survey voted that school should start Aug. 25.
Notably, 49.58 percent of survey takers felt that Thanksgiving break should last three days, though 43.11 percent felt it should stay a week long, as it has been. Yeager noted that there is an issue of having a shorter Thanksgiving break, because "we cannot get substitute bus operators that week." A total of 74.53 percent of survey takers felt Thanksgiving break should be protected, in that it could not be taken away if there are snow days.
Although many individuals feel that school would be best started after Labor Day, Albright noted that "you are running the possibility of running out of days for makeup in June," especially "if you have the type of winter we've had this winter."
As to winter break, 40.70 percent of parents felt it should be one week long, whereas 34.79 percent felt it should be two weeks long. A total of 67.36 percent of parents felt the winter break should be protected. Notably, it was mentioned that Wetzel County students did not miss any school days in December.
As for spring break, 48.24 percent of survey takers felt it should last one week, and 30.39 percent of participants believe spring break should be less than one week. Over half of those individuals, at 54.17 percent, felt it should be protected. This year students' spring break is protected.
One participant asked that if Long Drain had an issue that would send students home early, would it cause bussing issues.
"We will have to think on that," stated Yeager. "Normally in an attendance area, when we dismiss one school, we dismiss the other."
An individual asked if certain activities for good behavior, such as movie with popcorn, would have to fall by the wayside since they wouldn't be seen as instructional time.
"No, that's where your bank time comes in, to make that up," Albright stated.
One gentleman stated that Marion County recently had "a bus in a creek on its nose because of an accident with a coal truck and bad roads.
"I don't think anybody has done a bad job in calling two-hour delays and dismissals, and I hope these schedules don't affect the safety of kids on roads," he noted. "I hope someone is really considering, because we have a lot of heavy truck traffic with a lot of oil and gas. I know you have your work cut out for you . . . If you did two hours over, how would you get it out there where trucks would know?"
One woman stated that she lives near Mobley, and "they have posted there, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. they can't be on roads."
"If you have an extended school day, will the cooks have a meal for students or a snack?" one individual asked.
"We would probably have to do something in regards to a snack," Albright noted, "but that was a very unpopular idea we put out, overwhelmingly."
Albright stated the board would try to accommodate the survey as much as possible. He also stated that he did not believe the board was looking at starting school any earlier, when one gentleman expressed concerns about kids involved in 4-H and FFA being involved with Town & Country Days.
One gentleman expressed concerns about 4-H camp being in the middle of June and the possibility of having school run into this time because of the new legislation.
"We have to have 180 instructional days," Albright stated. "It's nothing we are doing. It's coming from the legislature."
Board Vice President Bob Patterson remarked that the law indicates students could go as late as June 30, but it's "very, very unlikely."
"This has been a very unusual winter," he noted.
Board member Carolyn Gatian had some concerns regarding MOVTI: If Pleasants and Tyler don't have school, and we have MOTVI students, is there some way MOTVI gives them work that can be done? Why should they be punished because of a weather delay that could set anyone else back?"
"While you are checking on all other items at state level, as far as FFA students, who have fair projects that are counted toward their end of year and beginning of year grades . . . just as MOVTI students, can't their participation time at the fair, count as instructional times? Gatian asked.
"There are some counties that have their fairs during the school year, and their students are excused to exhibit," Yeager remarked.
Albright stated the process would be a learning one. "We are trying to pick each other's brains as to what might work. Other counties may have good ideas. We have ideas that counties want to pick from."
"I know this isn't popular," one woman began, "but is there any thought being given to year-round school?"
Albright stated he goes to RESA meetings, "and no one has talked about balanced calendar."
Another woman stated that she used to work in Monongalia County and lived in Marion County, "and now I'm living in Mon and working in Wetzel, and out of all my friends, we are the ones that report to work on snow days."
"I can take that question," Albright stated. "I know it's been a practice. I know it started back to Dr. (Paul) Barcus and Dr. (Martha) Dean, and I'll be truthful with you . . . We run about $90,000 in payroll each day. If we had not reported those nine to 10 days, those are tax dollars we haven't worked for." Albright expressed concerns about requesting that a levy be passed, when the board, if not reporting, would have "wasted almost a million dollars."
Albright said he has also been kind of blunt with other counties. "This is what Wetzel is doing . . . We call the two hour delay. If you need to take a day, take today." Albright stated that if one cannot make it in, they should take a leave day. "If we are spending tax-payer dollars, we need to report. If we have a 200-day contract, we need to work that. I can't speak for other counties."
"In addition to that," President Mike Blair stated, "that goes away next year. If there's no school, there's no money. So that issue will only be left at the remainder of the school year."
"I know what you are saying about tax-payers money," an individual stated. "I'm at work every day at 7 a.m., some days before. I stayed in my classroom, and I take papers home, and it's that frustration level that we are, just because we are at home . . . I'm not sitting on the couch eating Bon Bons. I'm grateful it's going away."
"I'm probably more grateful than you are that it's going away," remarked Albright. "I see both sides, but I had some concerns about how far people have to travel. You choose where to live and you choose where you work. I've had as long as an hour-and-a-half one way when I had to report as an administrator. I don't want to risk anybody. But if you don't come to work, you will have to take a day. It's part of the contractual agreement, but like you say, it's a moot point for next year."
One suggestion that picked up a considerable amount of support was the idea of school starting one-hour later and ending one-hour later. Albright said that the only issue with this plan is that the school system would have to be consistent with it, such as choose to go one hour later during a certain time period, such as January through April. "I don't think it would be hard to do on that basis," he said.
"The only other thing I want to point out is only seven percent of students filled out the survey," Gatian noted. "I would like to see those, who are primarily impacted by this, have a little say."
Also, Jay Yeager commented that the average year of school has been 178 days. "Six to seven years ago, we missed 10 days or more, so that kind of hurt our average."
Albright also reported that certain busses not running because of weather would not affect the number of days that county goes.
"The state didn't anticipate every problem," Patterson noted. "They were certain to meet the criteria of learning. It's not going to be perfect."
One audience member noted that if school starts earlier and ends later, how would the service personnel be able to get the regular school maintenance completed for the beginning of the year. "It will be problematic to get the building ready for the next school year," she noted. Blair responded that if extra assistance or even a contracting service is needed, she would have it. "If we can do something to get you extra assistance, we will get you the assistance you need," Blair remarked.
In another matter, Parent Earl Stevens spoke to the board prior to the calendar meeting presentation. Stevens said that it wasn't quite a year ago that he appeared before the board of education concerning the shortage of driver's ed vehicles at the county. "It was a pressing issue," he remarked. "I want to thank you and your input, and the administration for quickly getting a remedy to that and solving the problem for us."