Pocahontas County Board of Education Asked Challenging Questions at their Meeting
Usually the Delegations – or public comment- portion of the Pocahontas County Board of Education Meeting are as exciting as watching grass grow, but at the July 10th Board meeting, Jay Miller asked some sharp and probing questions of the Board which obviously upset and irritated some of the Board members. Miller’s first question was about the recent agreement with Fire & Life Safety America to inspect the fire and safety equipment at each of the five schools and at the bus fleet and Wellness Center.
“I’m curious about the status and the general purpose of the contract that you talked about and it was reported in the media to have a company in Virginia come and inspect the five schools for their fire systems” said Miller. “And it was not clear what that inspection would involve and what the management purpose was in having a contract like that. Is it to support insurance? Is it to …I don’t know- what is the purpose, given that there have been other inspections?”
School Treasurer Sherry Radcliff explained that the inspections are mandated by the State and this contract just involved using a new company to do the inspections and some minor repairs at a reduced cost compared to the previous contractor. Miller and several Board members went back and forth when Miller tried to learn that if as a result of these repairs, it is now less likely that the Sprinkler Systems at Green Bank School and Marlinton Elementary will fail.
The overall answer from the Board was that the sprinkler systems in those 2 schools remain in jeopardy despite these minor fixes because the entire piping systems remain corroded and worn out. Mr. Miller kept asking the same questions in different ways to get at a more definitive answer while the Board repeatedly said it just did not know the answer to Miller’s questions. Finally Board President Grimes asked Miller to go to his next question.
Miller also wanted to know the exact details about the proposed acquisition of a new building to house the Board of Education Offices. He wanted to know where the money was coming from and why it could not be used to fix Green Bank Elementary-Middle School and Marlinton Elementary School instead.
The Board told him they were looking at 3 possible properties and were still trying to determine if any of these could be purchased and renovated using only the insurance claim money paid over the years for several fire and flood damages to the existing Board Office. They told Miller that money can only be spent on a Board Office, not on school repairs. Miller challenged that saying once an insurance company makes a payment, claimants can spend the money anyway they want.
Sherry Radcliff pointed out the State Board of Education’s Financial Rules specifically say such insurance claim monies received are to be earmarked only for the purpose for which the claim was made, in this case to repair or replace the Board Office and cannot be used on any other project.
Miller wanted to know the exact cost of purchasing the new property, the cost of renovating it to meet their needs and the cost of demolishing the old Board Office. He refused to accept the Board’s answer that they were still trying to determine those costs to see if such a property purchase is even feasible with the amount of insurance claim money they have.
The Board refused Miller’s requests that they state exactly how much insurance claim money they had put away for this purpose or that they disclose prices of the properties they are looking to possibly purchase. Board Member Joe Walker told Miller that it is not wise to let other possible purchasers know what price a property seller is offering to the Board nor is it a good idea to let the potential property seller know exactly how much money you have available to spend since that can cause the price of the property to go up.
Miller was obviously dissatisfied with those answers. Finally the Board informed Miller that his time to speak was up and they had to move on to other business. After the meeting, Miller told this reporter that he felt there was too much secrecy by the Board in these dealings.
Jay Miller is one of the members of the Building Consensus Committee which recently published their report about why the School Levy failed to pass in the 2016 General Election in Pocahontas County. We will be interviewing Jay and other Committee members about that report in a future story.
Other things were discussed and acted on during this July 10th Board of Education Meeting which will be covered in Part two of this meeting story.