Annual RIF Meeting Held
The Wetzel County Board of Education held its annual Reduction-In-Force/Transfers on Monday, Feb. 29, at a special meeting.
The Wetzel County Board of Education holds the annual RIF ritual every year, as reductions are mandated under the West Virginia Legislature’s school aid funding formula which is based on each county’s student population.
The employees who have been placed on a Preferred Recall List may bid on any job that may become open for which they are qualified. Historically in Wetzel County, many, if not all, RIFed employees are recalled, although not necessarily for the position from which they were RIFed.
Individual hearings were held each for Joshua Weekley and Christina Stapel, both who were placed on the Transfer List for Professional Personnel. A hearing was also held for Kelly D. Taylor, who was placed on the Transfer List for Service Personnel.
An executive session was held after the hearings; upon return to open session, the board voted 4-1 to uphold the superintendent’s recommendation to transfer Taylor. Board member Aaron Cisar was the only board member who voted in opposition.
The board also voted, 3-2, to uphold the transfer of Stapel. Board member Linda Kirk, along with Cisar, voted against the measure.
The board voted 4-1 to not uphold the transfer of Weekley. Board President Mike Blair voted against that motion.
Jeremy Radabaugh, Organizational Development Specialist for the West Virginia Education Association, represented both Weekley and Stapel during their hearings. One point Radabaugh stressed concerning Weekley’s case dealt with the letter Weekley was given. Radabaugh argued that the letter Weekley was given was a transfer notification. Radabaugh argued that Weekley currently has a 240-day contract; a change in Weekley’s job at Wetzel County Schools would mean a cut in days. Radabaugh argued that a previous case had determined that if a professional employee has a reduction in his or her days of employment, the employee must be given a Reduction-In-Force letter.
Radabaugh noted an additional discrepency regarding the dates on the letter. Radabaugh argued that Weekley’s letter was dated Feb. 18. The letter stated that Weekley had 10 days to request a hearing on his transfer. In the next paragraph of the letter, Weekley was directed to deliver a request by Feb. 26.
Richard Boothby, attorney for Wetzel County school administrators, discussed the state’s funding formula. He noted the county spends $4,650.127 for service and professional employees over the formula. Boothby also referenced the list of requests made by the county school’s principals, suggesting that the school system would not be able to fulfill as many of the principals’ requests if they were paying additional salaries.
Specifically, regarding Taylor’s hearing, Yeager testified that there are currently five kindergarten classes at New Martinsville School, where Taylor is employed as a kindergarten aide. He said considering the number of preschoolers at the school currently, there would only need to be four kindergarten classes for the next school year. Yeager said the board could add personnel after March 31, a date set by the state, but could not reduce the number of teachers after that time. Yeager testified that the board is required to move the person with least seniority out of the job.
When given time to ask questions of Yeager, Taylor argued that she should have been notified that she could lose her job as an aide.
Taylor said she had 13 years of full-time experience yet “every year I end up in this mess.”
Taylor said she had assumed an aide position would be available in Paden City, due to the retirement of another individual. Yeager responded that, currently, the board was not going to post the position because there was no need for two aides.
Taylor became emotional, stating that she had taken several graduate level-classes. She said besides working all day, she had worked on her school work three to four hours at night. She said other aides have been hired without “doing anything.”
“I just don’t think it is right,” she said.
Boothby asked Yeager to affirm that he did not have any power to change seniority rules. Yeager agreed.
“You are going to have one class with a teacher’s aide that doesn’t have the same qualifications as me,” Taylor noted.
“That is correct,” Yeager stated.
Board Member Linda Kirk inquired as to whether Taylor had the ability to “bump” another teacher out of her position, where “the least senior teacher in the county would be bumped.” Yeager noted that the service personnel are not able to bump positions.
“As you can tell, the rules relating to transfers are complex,” Boothby stated. “Ironically, it is serve personnel associations that lobbied for these positions, but you can see what the result is,” Boothby added. He further explained that there is a grievance process for a neutral third-party individual to observe if the law is being followed. “Jay (Yeager) understands these personnel laws. I don’t think Ms. Taylor believes that Jay is out to get her. He has made an effort to follow the rules.”
Taylor had further noted, while becoming emotional, that she has a torn meniscus from carrying her students.
During an opening statement for his hearing, Weekley stated that he has been employed by Wetzel County Schools for approximately eight years. He said he has been a Wetzel County Schools Professional Employee of the Month, a Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year, and has been elected to serve as co-president of the Wetzel County Education Association.
Weekley noted that he had been hired as a technology system specialist due to the county’s initiative to have one computer/laptop/iPad for each student.
Weekley stated that he was unanimously approved for the position by the board. He said he has heard compliments related to the service he provides to the school.
Weekley said he was “stunned” to receive notice “that the current superintendent wanted to reduce the technology department.”
“I fear that if our superintendent believes we can reduce technology, she is not aware of the struggles we will face as a one to one school district. It stands to truly hurt students and staff of county schools. Not only am I an employee, I am a product of Wetzel County Schools. Save for my college years, I’ve lived in Wetzel County my entire life.”
Weekley said he was afraid that once the one to one initiative is put into effect, the “residents will see a few months of powerful results, and then problems will begin to plague us.”
Boothby argued that other counties, with more students, “get by” with fewer technology system specialists.
Boothby also argued that besides having technology system specialists, technology coordinators, and technology integration specialists, the board still had to call an outside vendor to fix issues that the school system’s team does not handle.
Yeager testified that Weekley holds seniority as a teacher in technology education. “When he is eliminated, he has the right to bump the least senior teacher in his certification, which would be Ms. (Nikki) Stevens.” It was noted that Stevens is a technology education teacher at Magnolia High School.
Benjamin McPherson, who works as supervisor for the technology system specialists, testified that the board had felt there was a need for more specialists due to testing moving online, as well as the one to one initiative. When asked by Boothby, McPherson stated the technology department provides approximately 2,400 devices, not including smart-boards.
McPherson said since the beginning of February, the specialists have processed approximately 1,600 issues. Furthermore, he testified that very rarely does the school contract work out.
McPherson stated that, that very day the specialists had been setting computers for testing. He said the specialists had to address issues at the schools. If there had been three specialists, the schools would not have been ready for testing. Furthermore, McPherson testified, he had not been notified regarding Weekley’s possible transfer. He said he found out about the transfer after Weekley had.
“It worries me. I thought previously we would have a TSS for every area. If we have a problem in all four areas, a school will be left out. It concerns me that I could be caught without somebody to go somewhere. We would have to contract other work out,” he added.
As to the third hearing, Yeager testified that Stapel, a MI/LD/BD with Autism teacher was one of 11 other special education teachers at New Martinsville School. Yeager said Stapel is the only teacher out of the 11 who is not fully certified.
However, Yeager said Stapel would be transferred to Long Drain School, where she would bump the least senior teacher.
Deborah Novotny, special education director, testified on behalf of the school system. She said she has been a special education director for approximately 18 years. She said New Martinsville School, without Stapel’s position, would still have an appropriate caseload of special education students per each teacher.
Assistant Principal Linda Zeh testified that Stapel had worked with many different disabilities in her classroom. She said Stapel is a “very capable special education teacher” and has a very unique classroom.
“She is highly qualified in her area. I’ve seen her deal with multiple disabilities at the same time, and it takes a special kind of person to be able to handle those and be able to qualify quality services.”
Zeh said Stapel was “highly experienced to be in the position where she is currently at.”
Stapel herself said the children in her classroom “thrive on structure.”
“If you put them somewhere else, nobody really knows what is going to happen to them yet. You are misplacing a whole system,” she said.