Superintendent Miller Says Classes Slated To Resume Monday

WHEELING — Ohio County school officials intend to have buildings open and students back in the classrooms Monday. Teachers and service personnel have not indicated whether they plan to return to work Monday.

Superintendent Kim Miller said she and the other 54 superintendents from across West Virginia are meeting in Charleston today with West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine, and that she had already spoken with local labor representation about a return to work. She said everyone seems to be on the same page.

“We believe that Monday, there will be a resolution in place, and our intent is to have school open as planned,” she said.

The announcement came during a special meeting of the Ohio County Board of Education this morning, which board members Shane Mallett and Tim Birch chose not to attend. Member Christine Carder participated by phone.

Many school employees filled the board room, with an overflow crowd having to stand outside the building.

The board passed a resolution supporting their teacher and service workers which is to be sent to Gov. Jim Justice, but that didn’t stop board president Zach Abraham from expressing his disappointment in the employees for not returning to work this week after a proposed 5-percent pay raise deal was passed by the West Virginia House of Delegates Wednesday night.

Abraham said sometimes adults have to set an example for the students by doing the right thing.

“Sometimes that means you collectively stand together and come back to school,” Abraham told school employees.

“I just want you to know we need you in school…

“We will continue to work on you behalf. I’m not asking you — I’m pleading with you to come together as Ohio County. That’s what I’m asking …”

Abraham said he was especially disappointed by the employees’ actions after the board voted 3-2 Monday night not to dock employees for days missed because of the work stoppage. The action allows the employees to continue to receive a $1,350 employee incentive bonus awarded at the end of the year to those who have personal and sick days remaining.

Abraham had joined with Mallett and Birch to approve the vote.

He explained he, Carder and member Sarah Koegler had initially intended this morning to direct Miller to open the district’s schools Monday. But she told them a vote that would split the board wasn’t necessary, and that she would take the necessary actions.

Mallett stood outside the board office prior to the meeting, and read a letter telling employees who gathered he would not be participating in the meeting.

“It has been brought to my attention by numerous employees of Ohio County Schools, members of the general public and social media accounts that several votes could take place today reneging on the promises, support and protections that were put in place for you at Monday night’s meeting,” Mallett said. He said he had also been made aware that some board members “may have met and/or consulted with an attorney wherein the outcome of said votes have already been determined.”

Such meetings are in violation of the Sunshine Law, according to Mallett, an attorney.

“Until such a time as I am able to fully look into this matter, I do not feel comfortable sitting here as a member of the Ohio County Board of Education wherein votes pertaining to the welfare of our employees may have already been arranged,” he said.

Mallett said he also asked Birch to not attend the meeting. It was his belief that as Carder was participating by phone, a quorum would not be present.

Abraham disagreed, and said he considered Mallett’s allegations “disrespectful” to the board. The only vote taken this morning was on the resolution supporting the teachers.

“I don’t have secret meetings,” he said. “The rumors out there can be vicious … We are working very hard on your behalf. “

Abraham said he has spent much time in recent days calling local legislators on employees’ behalf. Initially, he told the lawmakers the employees’ main concern was finding a solution to rising Public Employee Insurance Agency premiums, and that should be their focus.

After the 5-percent raise was approved, employees decided they did want the raise, and Abraham said he next called the lawmakers back to tell them.

“I don’t think any of us know what the people want,” he said. “I really don’t.”