Controversy Continues Over Gilmer’s Community Schools

 Normantown's students attend classes  in disconnected modular units

Normantown's students attend classes in disconnected modular units

Normantown volunteers work to build connecting sidewalks

Normantown volunteers work to build connecting sidewalks

One particular item on the Gilmer County Board of Education agenda drew a larger crowd than usual recently, 70 people in attendance, according to Misty Pritt, Gilmer school board member and Challenge WV fellow.

The discussion and possible action centered on the SBA Needs Project for a new Normantown elementary school. The project has been denied twice by the School Building Authority to address the needs with the old facility.

SBA head Dr. Mark Manchin has suggested to Gilmer board members there was sentiment on his SBA Board to fund a new school for Normantown rather than funding money needed to repair the old facility.

Normantown students are currently being housed in annexes and mobile classrooms on the Normantown campus.

During the October meeting, there was three special committees who spoke in opposition of the Normantown project from Glenville Elementary Local School Improvement Council (LSIC) , Sand Fork Elementary LSIC, and the newly formed Comprehensive Educational Facility Plan (CEFP) committee for the 2010-2020.

Each committee submitted a letter suggesting the Normantown project would compromise or jeopardize future funding for other schools in the county.

EDUCATION COMMITTEES APPEAR STACKED

The LSIC committees, and the CEFP committee said they felt the needs project should include all Gilmer County Schools.

The CEFP committee met once to discuss the recommendation, although the Board of Education had not asked for a recommendation.

The committee reportedly conducted a secret ballot on whether the recommendation of the CEFP to the Board of Education should be one new elementary for the county, or two new elementary schools.

Twenty-nine of the 35 members were present, however the vote was 14-13 to proceed with a plan for one new school for the entire county.

Pritt says a second secret ballot was taken as to whether or not to proceed with the Normantown plan in its present form. The vote was 21 not to proceed with the Normantown plan, 4 to proceed, with one abstention.

A member of the newly formed CEFP committee questioned the configuration of the committee under Policy 6200.

A show of hands recognized over 80% of the CEFP members were employed by the school system, married to an employee, family of a board member, retired from the system, on the substitute teacher or aide list, or tied to the school system in some way. Leaving less than 20% representing community members, parents, and grandparents of students.

STARKEY WANTS BALANCE

Board president Phyllis Starkey said after analyzing the group, she felt there was a need to balance out the committee and get more community representation.

This matter is being checked and may involve reconfiguring the group to avoid controversy, and ensure fair representation, said Pritt.

President Starkey said she felt the CEFP was asking the Gilmer County Board of Education to ignore an immediate need at Normantown.

Starkey maintains the SBA suggested the county apply for a new school in Normantown, with the project being in the making for a year and a half.

She questioned why these committees waited until two weeks before the project was due to voice their opinions.

NORMANTOWN PROJECT SUPPORTED

Board Member Misty Pritt informed the group she has spoken with Dr. Manchin, and asked if submitting a proposal for a new school in Normantown would jeopardize or compromise future funding for all Gilmer County Schools.

Dr. Manchin responded by explaining many counties submit projects year after year, and the SBA looks at each project individually according to need.

Manchin said when he was Superintendent in McDowell County, projects were funded 11 years consecutively.

Pritt pledged to fight year after year, to maintain community schools.

“I feel community schools are a true representation of what Gilmer County holds dear,” Pritt said.

Pritt was clear of her position on small schools versus consolidation, expressing concerns over long bus rides.

She expressed health and safety concerns for Normantown for two years. “The students and staff have made do in crowded modular units. We need to restore a sense of normalcy to the students and staff at Normantown,” she said.

President Starkey called for the vote concerning the Gilmer Needs Project, and the board voted to go ahead and send the Normantown project. The vote was 4 in favor and 1 opposed.

The Normantown Project was submitted to the SBA on November 1st.