Preston votes to hold fact-gathering meetings to consider 2 school closures

TUNNELTON — The Preston County Board of Education voted 3-1 Monday to conduct public meetings to hear comments and gather information before deciding whether to vote on closing

two schools.

“The vote we take tonight is not the vote to close schools,” board President Jack Keim said. “It’s the vote to go out and get information.”

He and board members Robert “Mac” McCrum and Pam Feathers voted to hold the public meetings. Bob Ridenour voted against it. Board member Jeff Zigray was not at the meeting.

Ridenour said he wants to see the figures on other ways to possibly save the school system money besides school closures.

The board began looking for savings after Preston voters failed two school levies, the most recent in May.

“We have new schools, and we do not have the money to take care of them,” Keim said after the meeting. “Every time in the past that a levy has failed, we cut corners and moved down. Well, we don’t have any corners left … And we have to do something.”

State regulations require meetings be held at each school that would be impacted if Fellowsville Elementary and Rowlesburg School closed, including schools that would accept those students.

The fact gathering hearings will be at 5 p.m. Oct. 30 at Kingwood Elementary, 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Central Preston Middle School, 5 p.m. Nov. 1 at Terra Alta School, 5 p.m. Nov. 5 at South Preston, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at Fellowsville and 5 p.m. Nov. 7 at Rowlesburg.

These are not board meetings, and a majority of the board cannot attend any session.

Assistant Superintendent of Preston County Schools Brad Martin and Ange Varner presented figures on possible savings to be had by closing the schools.

Martin said the board staff estimated a total of $490,790 in building-related and transportation costs could be saved by closing the two schools. Another $828,000 could be saved on personnel, he said, for a total estimated savings of more than $1.3 million.

Some of those in the audience from Fellowsville disputed those figures.

Binders of information about the proposed closings will be available for public viewing at schools affected and the board office today.

Martin said current enrollment at Fellowsville is about 72 students in K-fifth grades, a 46 percent drop since 2014-’15, when there were 132 students. Countywide enrollment fell from about 4,700 students in 2004 to about 4,406 this year, he said.

Monday’s meeting was held at South Preston School. Fellowsville Principal Greg Cummings and former principal Don Post spoke emotionally about keeping the school.

“Everything I’ve seen is nothing but money,” Post said.

Post said 30 to 40 students who should be attending Fellowsville instead go to South Preston and, when the pre-K program was taken out last year, “you really put a nail in our school.”

If the pre-K were returned, the school would grow, he said. Cummings point-ed out students there had the highest marks on standardized tests in the county.

“If we’re not careful, we’re going to cripple a very successful small school setting that is the glue for a community,” Cummings said, adding, “Consolidation is not a student-based movement at all.”

McCrum has been a teacher and principal since 1964.

“I said the only time I would close schools is when the parents close one. The parents have spoken. There’s no kids at these schools,” McCrum said. “Today, I was teaching at University High School. You want to see a nice school, go to University High. But it’s paid for. They passed a bond and then levies.”

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