Preston BOE explores potential cost-saving options after levy failure

KINGWOOD — The Preston Board of Education (BOE) asked Superintendent Steve Wotring for more details on a range of options in the wake of the latest levy failure.

Wotring gave the board a variety of proposals Monday and asked which it wanted more info on. All, school board members said.

None of the options were voted on. They included everything from school closures to going to digital textbooks.

“This is everything that I think should be on the table for us to look at in the future moving forward as to exactly what we need to do financially to keep ourselves in good standing,” Wotring said.

Among Wotring’s suggestions for savings:

  • Close Fellowsville Elementary and/or Rowlesburg School for 2019-’20.

Enrollment for 2018-’19 is projected at a maximum of 82 students in grades K- five at Fellowsville. Those students would go to South Preston, about six miles down W.Va. 26. Some parents are already transferring their kids there, Wotring said.

“The enrollment is just going too low, and stu-dents are filtering automatically into South Middle,” Wotring said.

In answer to a question from Board President Crissy Estep, Assistant Superintendent Brad Martin said South is below 60 percent capacity now.

Rowlesburg is projected to have 84 students in K- eight this fall. If it closed, students from Manheim and Salt Lick would go to Terra Alta/East Preston; those on W.Va. 72 in town and to the intersection with U.S. 50 would go to Kingwood Elementary and Central Preston Middle; and students residing south, on 50 and Laurel Mountain, would go to South Preston.

Looking two years down the road, if this happened, South would have 510 students, an increase of 84; TA/EP 402, an increase of 27. Kingwood Elementary is losing population, and even if students transfer, it would be at about 451, or 13 less, and CPMS would go to 338, one more than now.

Board Member Bob Ridenour wants to know how much more time students will be on the bus.

“Regardless of anything, we need to re-evaluate our attendance zones in this county,” Wotring said. “The attendance zones have been in place and untouched for decades for the most part.”

There are places where buses for different schools pass one another, “and that needs to stop,” he said. “And that’s going to be a cost-saving measure in itself.”

Some back road bus routes also need to be reconsidered, he said. All of this will be part of the Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan for 2021-’30. These plans are required by the state, and work will begin next year on this one.

  • Digital textbooks can save half the cost of books, Wotring said. BOE Member Jack Keim asked how much is half? Wotring gave the example of this year’s math texts, which would cost more than $450,000 for books. The levy would have paid for texts.
  • Changing the length of contracts for custodians could also save money, Wotring said. Currently, they have 240-day contracts. Many are saving their days off until the summer to be off then.

Wotring proposed going to 200-day contracts and offering additional 40-day contracts to those who want to work the summer doing cleaning, painting and other work. “This is the way we used to do it, and I’m saying the way we used to do it is probably better than the way we’re doing it now,” he said.

For professional personnel, the county needs to stay within the number of positions funded by the state, Wotring said.

  • Restructuring use of county vehicles could also be considered, the superintendent said, possibly parking them at the central office and requiring people to pick them up there.
  • Instead of paying two people to mow at all schools and buying equipment, Wotring proposed contracting the work out.
  • Closing all schools at 4 p.m. would save money in part because youth leagues don’t always pay the bills for using them, and the payments “don’t even come close” to covering costs. “I don’t really want to do that, but you didn’t hire me to be popular, you hired me to manage the system,” Wotring said. “So I am giving you every possible scenario to manage this system.”

Southern States Athletic Conference sanctioned sports would continue. Board Member Pam Feather suggested getting payment up front for school use. Wotring said the groups don’t always have the fee.

“It seems to me we’re hurting the ones we’re trying to help,” Keim said.

The levy would have covered these costs, so community groups were not charged at all.

Wotring also had suggestions for revenue. One is property sales. The old West Preston football field and Tunnelton-Denver Elementary could be sold now, but Wotring recommended minimum bids and restrictions on how Tunnelton could be used. If Rowlesburg or Fellowsville closed, they could be sold.

He recently became aware of a revenue option from another county, Wot-ring said. By using P cards to buy supplies and pay bills, counties can get 1.25 percent cash back. Upshur County got $40,000 last year from this, Wotring said.

Wotring was not sure how long it will take to gather the additional data requested by the board.

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