State won’t force students to go to first inter-county elementary

By Ryan Quinn, Education Reporter

West Virginia’s deputy state schools superintendent says state education officials don’t control student transfers in Gilmer County, which hasn’t provided its promised number of students to the state’s first inter-county elementary, and says there’s no discussion of forcing redistricting.

Cindy Daniel, who in December told the Gazette-Mail she was working with the Gilmer superintendent to ensure the students intended to go to Leading Creek Elementary actually do so, said last week that despite the school having only about 150 students of its planned 240, a Gilmer family’s choice of which school to send their child to shouldn’t be harmed. She said some students who were supposed to attend Leading Creek have, at their families’ requests, been transferred elsewhere.

“I think we need to treat those students in the same manner as we treat any other students in the state,” she said, noting that other counties approve students’ requests to transfer from one school to another.

The state Board of Education took over the Gilmer school system in 2011 and still controls finance, personnel and facilities decisions there. Lewis County is responsible for Leading Creek’s finances, but there’s a special board overseeing the school that includes representatives from both counties and Daniel herself. Planning for the school started years ago, when there was a different Gilmer superintendent and a different deputy state schools superintendent overseeing state intervention counties.

Staff of the state School Building Authority, which put $10.3 million into building the new school on the Gilmer-Lewis line, had raised concerns about Gilmer busing students from the former attendance area for Troy Elementary — which combined with Lewis’ Alum Bridge Elementary to form the new school — to Leading Creek, dropping only some of the students off there and continuing to transport the rest on south to Glenville Elementary. Also, a planned redistricting of some Sand Fork area students to attend the inter-county school never occurred. Daniel said she didn’t know why that didn’t happen, and, to her and SBA staff’s understanding, the students from that area were counted in the planned enrollment for Gilmer’s new consolidated elementary school, which is expected to combine the county’s remaining three elementary schools when it opens next school year in the Glenville area.

Daniel said the combined enrollment of the Troy and Alum Bridge schools was about 190 at the end of last school year, and there aren’t even 50 kids in the portion of the Sand Fork area that was supposed to be redistricted — so the full 240 number doesn’t appear possible even if redistricting occurred.

She said enrollment isn’t even at 190 because many of the former Troy students aren’t at Leading Creek for various reasons, including that some were sixth graders who wouldn’t attend the prekindergarten through sixth grade inter-county school this year, and some were attending Troy on transfer but reverted back to their original intended schools instead of going to Leading Creek.

She said 16 Troy students never showed up at Leading Creek because their families requested transfers. Upon recommendation by the state-appointed Gilmer superintendent, Gabe Devono, the local Gilmer school board approved the transfers to attend a different school. Local board members Bill Simmons and Misty Pritt agreed they have had control over transfers, but two other members, Carl Armour and Norma Hurley, said that isn’t the case.

“In essence, the school board has no authority at all, we merely go in there and sit, and we have no decision-making roles,” Armour said.

Regardless of whether the local board does or doesn’t have control of transfers, a majority on the five-member board — Armour, Hurley and Pritt — say they’re for allowing students to transfer to the schools they want. Simmons said he didn’t want to discuss how he’d vote on transfers before the full board discusses it in a meeting, and the Gazette-Mail was unable to reach the final board member, Thomas Ratliff, last week.

SBA staff said the experience will change how they’ll approach inter-county schools.

“We’ve encouraged Gilmer County to honor their commitment here, but I’m just saying I don’t think there’s a will to do that,” SBA Executive Director David Sneed said.

He said the SBA — which distributes state general revenue, bond proceeds and lottery money for school construction and renovation projects around West Virginia — will likely start requiring counties to specify attendance areas for proposed schools, identify the particular students who will attend the schools and require a parent survey to see whether they’d be willing to actually send their kids.

“We will need that confirmed before we fund a project and not afterward, so we will most definitely need to change our approach,” Sneed said.

Scott Raines, the SBA’s architectural services director, said student transfers from school to school have generally been increasing, making it more difficult to plan how large to build new schools. He said the SBA will start requiring counties to give written assurances that certain kids will come from certain areas.

“I know from here on out, I’ll make sure we don’t make this kind of mistake again,” he said. Regardless, he said he believes Leading Creek will succeed.

Raines said possible overcrowding at Gilmer’s upcoming consolidated elementary school could force the county to send more kids to Leading Creek. He said the SBA hasn’t looked into whether Gilmer could, with current planning documents, be legally forced to provide more students to Leading Creek, and that may be something the agency’s board could look at if problems persist.

Reach Ryan Quinn at

ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com /ryanedwinquinn,

304-348-1254 or follow

@RyanEQuinn on Twitter.