MORGANTOWN — How do you hire a county school superintendent?
What do you do when you’re suddenly wrangling with matters of teacher salaries and rising insurance premiums?
How do you respond if you’re on a school board and the teachers and service personnel in your system institute a work stoppage in protest of pay and other particulars?
Those were among the topics tackled by three candidates for the Monongalia County Board of Education (BOE) on Monday afternoon in the offices of The Dominion Post.
Gary Drvar, Mike Kelly and Melanie Baker Rogers sat for an hour-long session with the newspaper editorial board.
All three have backgrounds in education and Monongalia’s school system.
The candidates (including the incumbent)
Gary Drvar, a Morgantown High School graduate who also holds an associate degree from West Virginia Career College, spent more than a decade in the deputy reserves of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department and also worked in county schools.
He’s a first-time candidate, running on an anti-bullying campaign. Bullying causes untold pain and angst for victims and casts a shadow over entire school systems, he said.
“I want to put a stop to it,” he said. “Kids are committing suicide.”
Melanie Baker Rogers decided to run because she thinks she can put her background in education to use for the board.
She holds a B.A. in elementary education from WVU, where she stayed to earn a graduate degree in counseling and a doctorate in educational leadership studies. She often counsels young people in her private practice.
“I’m student-centered in everything I do,” she said.
Mike Kelly, a businessman, is a longtime BOE incumbent and the only current board member up for re-election. Two other seats on the five-member board are open, as their holders decided to retire from their elected posts.
Kelly calls himself “a proud product” of Monongalia’s school system — he’s a University High alum — and said he’s running because experience means continuity.
“Being on the board, you have to really be adaptable,” he said, “because it’s ever-changing.”
The search for a super
The land shifted even more for the BOE last month when Superintendent Frank Devono announced his retirement.
Now, the board is tasked with finding a replacement, preferably by June 1, so a three-year contract can be offered. That’s by stipulation of state code.
“We’re not etched in stone on that date,” Kelly said, “but we do want to get it rolling.”
A multi-year contract makes for a more attractive offer, he said, especially if the top candidate has a family and lives outside of West Virginia.
In the meantime, the current superintendent will stay on in an interim basis if his replacement isn’t found by that date, Kelly said.
If elected, neither Drvar nor Rogers would have a say in the search or hiring — but both said they would respect and support the process, nonetheless.
“I will work with any superintendent and any person on the board,” Drvar said.
“My job would be to help facilitate the transition,” Rogers said.
Moving forward — after the stoppage
All three rallied behind teachers and school service personnel during last month’s statewide work stoppage. The employees walked because of stagnant paychecks and rising premiums from the state Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).
“Teachers need to be paid,” Drvar said. “We’re 48th in salaries. And you look at PEIA — some people can’t afford a $20 or $30 copayment — not in today’s world.”
“I don’t think teachers are ever going make what they deserve to be paid,” Rogers said. “And we ask so much of them.”
Kelly agreed. Echoing Drvar, he said health care costs are soaring. Current litigious times, he said, might be why.
“We’re gonna chase premiums forever,” he said. “Thank goodness our taxpayers continually pass the excess levy. It’s a good way to say ‘thank you’ to our teachers and service personnel.”