Ohio County Board of Education Acts on Levy

Photo by Joselyn King Ohio County Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones, left, and board of education member Christine Carder listen as Wheeling Park High School Students speak about their experiences involving race relations at the school.

WHEELING — Ohio County Board of Education members acted Thursday to put a $42.2 million bond levy before voters this spring, then discussed recent racism incidents at Wheeling Park High School and the potential for a teacher walkout in the coming days.

Board members also recognized a large number of students for recent accomplishments during its “Parade of Champions” segment, and the expected attendance caused school officials to move Thursday’s board meeting to the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center at WPHS.

The Bond Levy

The levy approved by voice vote of the board is a $42.2 million bond issue that will go before voters during the May 8 primary election. The bond will be for 15.5 years, and be used in paying for $75,549,900 in building improvements across the school district.

Bond counsel is figuring into the mix a potential $27 million from the West Virginia School Building Authority, as well as a potential $6,349,000 savings in energy costs to fund the overall project, explained attorney Frankie Parsons with the Dinsmore & Shohl law firm.

The order lists the total property valuation in Ohio County at $2,511,311,839, and states the bonds to be issued are not more than 5 percent of that value.

The interest rate on the bonds cannot exceed 6 percent, but when they go to market, the rate should be below that, according to Parsons.

Race Incidents at WPHS

Five members of the public addressed the board telling their experiences regarding alleged racism at WPHS. Many explained there was not a “race war” happening at the school, but that African American students believe themselves targeted for abuse, and are seeking to stand up for themselves.

They said there is a consistent use of the “n-word” by some in the school. They also said students are learning about racism in the homes.

Superintendent Kim Miller said the district is continuing to monitor the situation, and will hire a diversity coordinator to coordinate events and activities in the schools to encourage more racial understanding among students.

“We are excited to move forward, and even better our education program environment in Ohio County,” she said.

Board members Sarah Koegler said she and Miller have consulted with a professional diversity practitioner in Cleveland who has worked with school districts. She said there would be further discussion about this at the board’s next meeting set for 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at Steenrod Elementary School.

She commended Miller and Assistant Superintendent Jones for their prompt action last week to defuse tensions at Wheeling Park High School.

Board member Tim Birch said growing up in Dodge City, Kan., his parents rented rooms in their home to African American students not permitted to live in the all-white dorms at the nearby college, and many in the community harassed them for doing this.

“This is an attitude — I don’t know how you change the attitude,” he said. “The parents’ attitude has to change, and I don’t know how you do it. They bring it from home, and I wish there was a magic wand to change this. I’m very frustrated by this.”

Member Christine Carder said she was very much encouraged by the community effort shown so far to address the racism issue at WPHS, and she said students, parents, administration and the board have to continue to work together on the issue.

“This is a place where remarkable things happen, and there are great educational opportunities — but it has to be as safe and comfortable place for all students,” she said. “All students have to feel a part of it.”

Member Shane Mallett said as a WPHS alumnus and member of the school board, he was “quite embarrassed” by the race incidents at the school.

“There is absolutely zero tolerance from my point of view,” he said. “We can have all these nice sayings and things we’re going to do. But if that occurs in Ohio County Schools, it is my vote that they be expelled. They can go to school someplace else.”

Board president Zach Abraham said there needs to be more opportunities for students in the district to get to know each other.

“If I get to know you, I’m going to have a better appreciation for where you are coming from,” he said.

Teacher Walkout

A special board meeting set for today to discuss matters pertaining to a teacher walkout in Ohio County Schools was canceled. Teachers across the state have been organizing walkouts to protest increasing health insurance premiums, proposed legislation to abolish teacher seniority considerations, and a 1-percent pay raise each year over the next five years.

Ohio County Education Association President Elaine Sedilko said she had spoken with Miller, who told her in the event of a one-day walkout by teachers she would be willing to cancel school for one day. This would keep teachers from having a “dock” day, and losing their yearly attendance incentive bonus of $1,350.

Ohio County teachers have taken an authorization vote on whether there should be a walk-out of teachers, but Sedilko said she cannot share the results of that vote. At least 70 percent of the vote of teachers is needed for a walkout to be authorized, and those votes are to be counted Saturday and delivered to the West Virginia Education Association office in Flatwoods, W.Va. on Sunday, she said.

“At this time, no action is being called,” Sedilko said. “This information can be used as leverage in trying to reach an agreement with the governor and the Legislature.”

Abraham said the idea of a work stoppage was “disheartening,” and the board would be “as supportive as it could be” of the issue.