(10/20/2006)
First Public Forum at Normantown Yields New Information; Meeting Goes Smoothly

By Drew Moody
drew@wvmountainsun.com

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 balance.

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 school."

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


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