First Public Forum at Normantown Yields
New Information; Meeting Goes Smoothly|
By Drew Moody
A group of perhaps 75 people attended Tuesday night's Normantown public
school forum and linkage meeting.
A few people spoke, but mostly the crowd listened.
Superintendent Ed Toman repeated what he's previously said concerning
getting public input, adding "we're looking for information."
Toman prepared various materials to hand out including information on
enrollment at Normantown school, a color-coded map to show where the
majority of the county's children live, information about a tour of a
newly built consolidated school in another county, and other reports.
No Clear Picture Offered
Absent from the meeting was a clear synopsis of what Gilmer County
Schools are facing, and over what period of time.
It seems reasonable to think someone may have an idea how much longer
the school board can continue as it is before the books will no longer
However, as questions were asked, a somewhat clearer picture did emerge.
Toman said the state school building authority (SBA) will not fund
repairs of Normantown, Sand Fork and Troy schools. The "working"
estimated cost of repairs to Normantown and Sand Fork exceed $300,000.
He also believes there will be no money forthcoming to replace the three
schools, as was called for in the current 10-year plan.
He cited the 'Economy of Scales' formula as the reason. Essentially,
according to that formula, there aren't enough students at the schools
to justify the expense of new facilities at each location. And, none of
them qualify for major improvement project funding, likely because they
were previously scheduled to be closed under the existing 10-year plan.
"Do we need a bond," Toman asked the crowd? He said grant moneys may
provide some assistance, but additional funding was needed.
He also told the audience the forums were not timed to make a
recommendation to close or consolidate schools by a December 31 deadline
imposed by state statute.
The Elephant in the Room
However, it still appeared everyone was dancing around the elephant in
the room. And that is because neither Toman, nor the Gilmer County
School Board, has presented a clear picture of existing funding
limitations, nor a time-frame that future decisions will have to be
made. No data has been provided with respect to the ongoing average
cost of maintenance and upkeep of the facilities, or what the county
school's budget can withstand.
Other questions that remain to be clarified include the implication of
spending money to make repairs - only to potentially close them in a few
years. And this includes ongoing repairs to Glenville Elementary School.
According to the Final Education Performance Audit Report of March 2005,
the Glenville Elementary School site is not adequate in size relative to
current enrollment and not large enough for future expansion. That means
any consolidation involving Glenville Elementary School may require
closing the school unless a waiver is granted.
It might also be anticipated many county residents may bulk at
additional construction at the location due to the close proximity of a
plastic pipe factory.
Is it reasonable to continue with a plan to completely repair existing
facilities if there's foreknowledge that perhaps two new elementary
schools will be built in the near future?
One parent at the meeting, after studying various SBA data, said they
believe Normantown would qualify for a waiver, but the other three
elementary schools would need to be consolidated. No comment was offered
concerning the observation.
Both Toman and a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan Committee
(CEFP) member at the last board meeting mentioned discussions had
included a consolidation plan that included more than one new facility.
This is concluded by inference, as the comment was, "We have never
discussed a consolidation into just one school in Glenville." (paraphrased)
Toman indicated at the Normantown meeting that even if there were two
elementary schools in a North-South configuration, or an East-West
one, it would not eliminate longer bus rides for some students. "No
matter what, parts of the county suffers," he said.
Toman also reminded the audience there were "all kinds of different
scenarios" and until the process is further along it is difficult to
predict what the options may be.
Parents and CEFP Member Offers Comments
The mother of a Normantown student said her child has a 55-minute bus
ride to school and would not bus her children further to attend school.
Shauna Maxwell told the audience she believes small schools are better
and Gilmer County should fix the existing schools.
A mother from Rosedale told the crowd if Normantown is closed her son
would either be home schooled or attend school in Braxton County.
Apparently several other residents of that area may share those feelings.
An older gentleman rose to ask if the schools were fixed now, would
there be a guarantee they wouldn't be closed later?
Toman told the audience he served at 'the will and pleasure of the
board' and he would not be the one making a decision concerning the
future of Gilmer County Schools. "The CEFP committee will make a
recommendation to the board," he said.
Anita Roberts, a member of the CEFP committee, told the audience the
committee wanted to have the public forums. "We wanted to hear what the
communities would support," she said.
"There's no secret agenda," Roberts continued, "No one wants to close a
Roberts went on to say it is not the intent of the committee to
recommend filing papers with the state by December 31, suggesting any
schools should be closed in Gilmer County at this time.
See also ... wvmountainsun.com