2017 RECAP: Mon County schools see growth

MORGANTOWN — If 2017 had a theme, it was growth — at least for Monongalia County Schools.

The district started the year with the opening of a brand new elementary school and continued to grow during the 2017-’18 school year.

Suncrest Elementary

When 550 Suncrest Primary students returned from Christmas 2016 break and started school in the New Year, they didn’t go to their old school, built in 1939 and last renovated in the ’90s.

Instead, they started at the brand new Suncrest Elementary School, across from the National Energy Technology Laboratory, on Collins Ferry Road.

The $16 million dollar, 70,000-square-foot school broke ground in May 2015 before opening
Jan. 3, 2017.

One of the school’s iconic features is its science, technology, reading, engineering, art and mathematics (STREAM) lab. The lab was the first of its kind in the county and has a library, research station and media center.

The school also boasts a large gymnasium with bleachers for 500 students.

The county typically builds its elementary gyms to middle school size and specifications, board member Nancy Walker previously told The Dominion Post.

“We’re still a growing community, and we’ve learned that we need space,” she said.

Suncrest Elementary add-ed fifth grade for the 2017-’18 school year.

Employees, students

An additional 149 students enrolled in Monongalia County Schools for the 2017-’18 school year. That will provide funding for an additional nine professional personnel, such as teachers, and six additional service personnel, legal counsel Jennifer Caradine said.

Total enrollment for the 2017-’18 school year is 11,610 students.

Enrollment numbers affect the funding school districts receive and must be submitted.

Caradine previously told The Dominion Post that roughly 23 students equates to an additional service personnel worth of funding.

Monongalia County Schools currently employees about 2,260 individuals, with 1,020 professional employees, 565 service employees, 450 professional substitutes and 250 service substitutes.

Bus ridership also experienced a jump for the 2017-’18 school year with about 140 additional students taking the bus, said Jeff Meadows, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

Meadows credited the increase partly to parents not wanting to wait in traffic during drop-off and pick-up hours.

Additional funding

In October, the Board of Education passed a resolution approving $2 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds.

The bonds will be repaid over 15 years, interest-free, and the payments will actually earn interest after they are deposited into a sinking fund, Nicole Kemper, chief business official and treasurer, previously told The Dominion Post.

Donna Talerico, deputy superintendent, said the money would be spent mostly on a comprehensive renovation of the HVAC systems at Mountain-
view Elementary and the Monongalia County Technical Education Center.

In December, the School Building Authority (SBA) announced that it would be giving Monongalia County Schools just over $4 million to be used on renovations and improvements at Morgantown High School.

The total projected cost of the MHS project is $5,365,510, and Monongalia County Schools will pay the remaining $1,341,377 for the construction, after receiving $4,024,133 from the SBA.

Almost $1.7 million was spent on locally funded facility upgrades at MHS since 2013.

The upcoming renovations include replacing the front entrance with high-security doors and a
“man-trap” vestibule, replacing stairwell doors in the academic well, dismantling the smoke stack and replacing windows.

The front entry does not comply with School Access Safety Design directives, and the stairwell doors were cited by the state fire marshal and other agencies for their poor condition.

Some of the money will also be used to repurpose space that formerly housed boilers into four additional classrooms.

Superintendent Frank Devono previously told The Dominion Post he hopes construction will begin this summer.

Classroom technology

Devono said the district’s biggest accomplishment in 2017 was fully implementing Chromebooks into the classroom.

“It’s given teachers the opportunity to make instruction more personal,” he said.

Starting in January, Chromebooks were handed out to every student from grades 3-12. After graduation, the seniors returned their laptops, which were then given to second grade students, Devono said.

Students are able to take the Chromebooks home, and for those without internet access, everything they need can be downloaded at school.

Devono called the laptops a big investment in the future.

Not all good news

While 2017 may have been a great year on the whole for Monongalia County Schools, it wasn’t without challenges, and the defunding of the states eight Regional Education Service Agencies (RESA) was one such challenge.

The West Virginia Legislature passed HB 2711, which defunded the program, last July. This July, the agencies will cease to exist.

RESAs were originally established to provide regions with more collective bargaining power to get cheaper prices on items such as milk and provide access to specialists such as audiologists that counties may not be able to afford on their own.

During the annual dinner with legislators in December, Devono told the assembled lawmakers that the district was working to establish a series of cooperative agreements with other counties to provide the missing services.