State’s largest school system deals with losing more than 700 students

By Jeff Jenkins
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Veteran Kanawha County School Superintendent Ron Duerring says he was a little taken aback when he learned the county’s student population had dropped by 731 over the past year.

“When I first became superintendent (in 1998) we had numbers like that but then we kind of stabilized for a while and leveled out. It seems to be picking back up again,” Duerring said.
Most believe the decrease, which will result in 72 school system job cuts because of fewer enrollment dollars from the state, is directly linked to the state’s struggling economy with the dramatic decrease in the coal industry and the results of the June 23 flood.

“I think some of those people moved away and aren’t coming back,” Duerring said. “Some may come back. It’s all a matter of people getting jobs and working and keeping people here.”

Administrators, teachers and service personnel are being notified this week about their positions being on the Reduction In Force (RIF) list. Duerring admits it’s a complicated process that changes on a daily basis but the system has set a few priorities including cutting some school administrative jobs and 12 positions at the county’s central office.

“We made cuts at the central office because we wanted to reduce the impact out in the school system,” he said.

Stonewall Jackson Middle School teacher Lauren Groseclose is concerned the teachers who lose their jobs will leave the area.

“That’s may biggest fear–I’m away from my students,” she said. “What makes a successful teacher is giving your all to this profession. If I’m not going to be teaching this next year it kind of puts my flame out a little bit.”

As of Wednesday morning, Groseclose had not been notified of being on the list but said three teachers would be let go at her school.

Duerring believes there’s a very good chance that almost everyone notified will have an opportunity to take another job in the system before next fall because of retirements and other attrition but in the end the system will have 72 (47 professional positrons and 25 service personnel) fewer positions, Duerring said.

The superintendent is calling for those receiving notices to be patient.

“We had froze some positions and didn’t fill them and so we’re eliminating those positions so that’s not really hurting anyone,” he said. “For those who may be totally RIF’d out of a job, we have a preferred recall list and as retirements go through we’ll go through that recall list and bring them back.”

The state is giving teachers more time to make their decisions about retirement so the county school systems still don’t have their final numbers. It’s even possible Kanawha County may hire some new teachers before next school year, Duerring said.

“A lot of things can happen. Spouses get transferred to a job somewhere else and their spouses go with them and we lose a teacher. So after we go back and everyone has been placed from the recall list it may be that we do go back and hire new teachers if we need positions filled,” Duerring said.