In a stunning announcement at the March 13th Board of Education Meeting, Pocahontas School Superintendent Terrence Beam unveiled just what the contingency plan is in the event of an emergency closure of Marlinton Elementary School. The Board of Education has been strongly advised by the State Fire Marshall for over a year to completely replace both the fire alarm and sprinkler systems at that school since they are failing and replacement parts are no longer available to patch them. Recently the State Fire Marshall changed their “recommended” order to a “shall replace” order. The School System, already facing a loss of about $375 thousand dollars from the National Forest timbering severance fund and also facing a just announced 10% cut in State Aid, does not have the money to replace those systems at Marlinton Elementary. The School building Authority or SBA will not provide any money to that school since it is in a flood plain. Thus, the Board of Education needed a back-up plan if the Fire Marshall orders the students removed from the school. The announced plan is radical, but according to the Superintendent the only practical option would be to move the entire staff and student body of both Marlinton Elementary School and Hillsboro Elementary School to Marlinton Middle School while moving the students and staff from Marlinton Middle School down to Hillsboro Elementary School. The Superintendent said that Hillsboro Elementary School would be large enough to accommodate the Middle School Students. Thus, the present Marlinton Middle School campus would become Marlinton Elementary School while Hillsboro Elementary School would become Marlinton Middle School.
Beam stressed that this is only a contingency plan if an emergency event forced immediate closure of Marlinton Elementary. Such an emergency while now most likely to be triggered by the Fire Marshall, could also be triggered by other catastrophic damages to the school such as a roof collapse or failure of other systems at the school. The State Fire Marshall has as yet not ordered the school evacuated, but both Maintenance Director Ron Hall and the Superintendent have said that evacuation order could happen at any time. One thing is certain however, if this emergency plan has to be implemented, it will cause consternation and turmoil for parents, students and staff at all three of the involved schools. We can only hope that the State Fire Marshall can be convinced to hold off at least until the end of the school year so the transition could be made over the summer break.
Superintendent Beam pointed out that they still do not yet have a similar emergency plan for Green Bank Elementary-Middle School which is also under Fire Marshall orders to replace the fire Alarm system, but they are not, at least as of now, under orders to replace the sprinkler system at Green Bank. Beam pointed out that there are no obvious options at Green Bank, so they are still looking for emergency options if evacuation of the school is ordered. The good news is that Green Bank could be eligible for emergency SBA repair funds and that the cost of replacing just the fire alarm system there would be a lot less then having to replace the sprinkler system as well. Beam said they still need to look for an alternative building that the students and staff of Green Bank Elementary School could be moved to at least temporarily.
Superintendent Beam also stated that as a cost saving measure necessary due to the desperate financial situation the Pocahontas County Schools find themselves in, they are planning to eliminate four service Personnel positions and two and a half Professional Positions. He explained that as of the beginning of the school year, they employed ten Service Personnel above the number the State will fund. Through attrition – that is not replacing positions that became vacant due to retirement or resignations- they now find themselves with only seven Service Positions not receiving State funding. But they need to get that number down to at least three for next year’s budget, so these four could involve layoffs unless there are enough retirements or voluntary resignations for cover the four positions.
As far as Professional positions – Teachers and Administrators – need to eliminate the two and a half positions that would not reimbursed by the State next school year. That is complicated by the requirement that they add a Kindergarten Teacher at Green Bank. Eliminating the two and a half positions will make them even with their State funded number of positions even with the required addition of the teacher at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School. These cuts are necessary since the county School board has to pay any salaries in excess of the State’s recommended number of positions.
In Part 2 of this story, we will cover the other things that were discussed at the March 13th School Board Meeting. Also stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio for an upcoming interview with Mr. Beam about these issues during his monthly Superintendent’s Report to our listeners.