Wood BOE begins consolidation work

Data to be presented in July

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Board of Education Tuesday unanimously approved moving forward with a schools merger and consolidation process.

Officials say the district will look at closing and consolidating four schools before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

While board members Tuesday stressed no decisions have yet been made, four schools have been identified as candidates for closure — McKinley, Waverly and Worthington elementary schools and Van Devender Middle School.

Superintendent Will Hosaflook said he will present data to the board on the four schools in July, including enrollment, staffing, and the utilization of those facilities.

Vandy Principal Darlene Parsons and Vandy parent Amelia McPeak spoke out against closing the middle school Tuesday, asking the board to slow down the process and consider other avenues to save money.

McPeak said she enrolled her child at Vandy after seeing increases in test scores and other metrics.

“I said ‘that’s a progressive school, not a stagnant school,'” she said. “My experience with my son at that school is he has excelled.”

McPeak called talk of consolidating middle schools “a hasty decision” and said it will “disrupt all the positive changes” which have been put into place in the past several years.

“My greater concern is what is going to happen to our communities as a whole,” she said, noting Vandy serves a population of high-risk students during a very vulnerable time in their lives.

“I do think the consolidating elementary schools is a lower risk than the risk of consolidating middle schools,” she said.

Parsons said she was proud of the improvements made at Vandy over the years and believes the school serves an important function role in the district. Parsons also suggested the board look at creating central office positions which market the school system to increase enrollment and look for grant funding to help fill budget gaps.

“There are a lot of options,” she said. “Take a little bit more time to research, to think about how many staff and students would be affected by this.”

Parsons said she plans to continue attending consolidation meetings and speaking out in favor of her school.

“As the leader of my school, it is my job to advocate on behalf of my students and staff,” she said. “I will not leave my school.”

Board members expressed sympathy, but said merger and consolidation must be considered.

“Even to think about closing a school is hard. Doesn’t matter what school, it’s hard,” said board member Debbie Hendershot.

Board member Justin Raber said there were few options to consider as two of the schools — Worthington and Waverly — should already have been closed, but past boards and administrations failed to take the proper steps.

“At this point, we’re going to run out of money in 18 months,” he said. “If we don’t do what has to be done, and we run out of money essentially, the state is going to come in and do it for us.”

Board President Rick Olcott, who joined the meeting via phone, said he believes he and other board members were elected “to maintain the financial integrity” of the school system, which includes having the proper number of facilities to best serve Wood County’s student population.

“It is the community’s expectation that we right-size our school system,” he said.