Wayne superintendent addresses boundary change issue
WAYNE — In an effort to reduce expenditures, the Wayne County Board of Education announced it is considering implementing district boundaries for the 2019-20 school year.
The creation of district boundaries would establish attendance zones for each school, assigning a specific school to every address in the county.
Several Wayne County students, parents and school administrators were present to vocalize concerns over the proposed boundaries at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, held at Tolsia High School.
HD Media reporter Luke Creasy sat down with Wayne County School Superintendent Todd Alexander recently to discuss specific concerns expressed by members of the public regarding the implementation of the district boundary proposal.
Q: I know the Board of Education has welcomed feedback on the boundaries. How much input have you received?
A: We have received a little over 100 comments about them, and of course we have had a number of delegations that have come up at the board meeting. What we will do is once the comment period is over on May 22, at that point we will go through everything again, look at the comments, and then decide what to do from there.
Q: After the public comment and discussion period ends, when will a vote happen?
A: There won’t necessarily be a vote. It was up for public comment and we have to take all of those comments and all the concerns — and there were some legitimate concerns that were raised. We’ll go back and look at the plan and see if it can be adjusted, and decide whether or not we want to move forward with it now or if it can be looked at on a later date.
Q: What are some of the biggest concerns being considered by the board relating to the boundaries?
A: They want to look at the impact on numbers at each of the schools and how many kids it will actually affect. We have some preliminary numbers on that, so we will take a look and then the big thing is that there were a lot of concerns about the lines that fall in the Prichard area. That would be looked at as well.
This is not something that is going to be rammed down anybody’s throat. Board members have indicated that they want to take this process slow. That was the whole reason for this public comment period because people raise issues that you would have never anticipated. After-school church programs and things that we might not know about, you hear about those things and you have to factor that into your thinking. So once it comes down, we’ll revisit it at that point and figure out what to do.
Q: There have been several people mention dollar amounts in regards to monies that would be saved with the institution of boundaries. Has there ever been an amount released telling what the Board of Education would save if the proposed boundaries would go into effect?
A: Where the confusion came was that at one of our board meetings, the Transportation director threw out a number of $3,000. Now, what he’s talking about is on parts and fuel; we get reimbursed 90% of that. So when you factored in the reimbursement amount, it came to $3,000. That was only for transportation, parts and fuel.
Overall, the real reason that we were looking at doing this is because you have personnel costs involved when you run extra buses. So what we were interested in and considering was the fact that there is a shortage of bus drivers across the state. We know at some point it is going to be very difficult because we already have a shortage of substitutes. We have mechanics driving buses every day, and a shortage of substitutes makes it so we know eventually it’s going to be difficult to fill those runs. From my point of view, if we can shrink and reduce the load by four runs, we don’t need as many personnel. Those are going to be positions we don’t have to fill, so we’re not out looking for people that aren’t there.
That was it. That’s where the real money was going to come in and be saved — in the reductions of how many positions you were carrying. As we talked about during our budgeting time, we were 60 positions over formula on the service side, so we’re reducing different classifications and things like that. That was going to be four positions that would have been reduced. That’s where the money comes into play; it is over $100,000. Reduction in positions is where the majority of that comes from.
Q: About the boundaries themselves, I know the proposed boundaries were released a few weeks ago. If the board does decide to move forward and enforce boundaries, could those boundary lines move to accommodate some of the concerns in areas like Prichard and Lavalette?
A: Absolutely. It could be up to edit or up to postpone until it’s looked at a little closer.
Q: When would a final decision be made?
A: We will know in early June.
Q: And these changes would go into effect next school year? Are we talking about 2019-20?
A: If there were going to be changes, it could be postponed. An effective date could be set a little later down the road. I anticipate that what we’ll do is sit down and look at it after the public comment period and then we will determine whether it’s something we want to act on.
Q: Has there been any consideration about grandfathering in the kids who are already enrolled in certain schools and letting them finish where they are?
A: Yeah, all those things are being looked at to see if we can make anything easier on the kids if the idea moves forward. Again, nothing is being forced down anybody’s throat here. If the board determines they need to step back and take some more time to study it and see if there is a smoother way to do it, or see if there’s another way to come up with the savings that we’re looking for, we will do that.
Q: At least two individuals addressed the amount of money that goes into sending employees to conferences, and that that in and of itself could be an area where budget spending could be trimmed. Could you explain why the board has set aside that money to be used there?
A: It’s federal dollars. When those dollars come in, they are earmarked for certain purposes. Any money that comes in that way is tied to professional development. We can’t transfer that money or use it for any other purpose; it has to be spent on its designated purpose when it’s sent to us. That federal money is sent to us for professional development.
Q: So to be clear, none of the money used to send employees to these conferences and trainings is coming out of the board’s general budget?
Q: One man’s comments suggested moving that money to provide resources and opportunities to the students in the classroom district instead of spending big at conferences and trainings. From what you just described, it sounds as though the board doesn’t have a say in where that money goes because it is already earmarked.
A: That is correct.
Q: One final question: How much of this decision lies directly on your shoulders, and how much of it lies in the hands of the five sitting board members?
A: The decision is ultimately in the hands of the board members. I have to make the recommendation. Step one is what I recommend, and then step two would be the board members deciding what to do based off of that recommendation.
The proposed district boundaries can be found at www.wayneschoolswv.org/boundaries. The boundaries are up for public comment until Wednesday, May 22. Comments can be made online or by mail. Written comments should be addressed to P.O. Box 70, Wayne, WV 25570, Attn: Wayne County Schools Transportation Department.
Luke Creasy is a reporter for HD Media. He can be reached by phone at 304-526-2800.