by Kate Evans
West Virginia Senator Charles Trump, State House of Representatives Delegates George Miller and Darren Thorne and Governor Jim Justice’s Eastern Panhandle Representative Daryl Cowles attended the November 7 Morgan County School Board meeting’s legislative work session to discuss areas of concern to the school system and to the Legislature.
One of the school district’s biggest concerns was the Third Grade Success Act that the West Virginia Legislature passed.
Morgan County Schools Superintendent Kristen Tuttle expressed gratitude for the legislation and said it was well overdue.
However, they are concerned about what funding will pay for the after-school and summer school requirements for students that have fallen behind grade level. The funding wasn’t allocated in the bill, Tuttle said. Their ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Relief) funding runs out the end of September 2024.
The legislators said there has been no discussion of funding for required summer school and after-school programs in the State Legislature.
Tuttle wondered how they will force families to make their children attend summer school and after-school programs, which will be required in the 2026-2027 school year. Parents feel that the summer is theirs.
“How do we get them to buy into extra support,” Tuttle asked.
Tuttle said they will probably have to shift summer school to targeting kids that are below grade level instead of allowing anyone to attend.
School board president Aaron Close said that with kids moving in and out of the school system, if they get kids in their third year of school, they haven’t been able to track their academic proficiency for first to third grade.
School board member Laura Smith said that some home-schoolers aren’t doing well. Tuttle said some have huge skill gaps with a lot to make up by third and fourth grade. Other home-schoolers are doing fine.
Delegate George Miller asked if schools can still take on summer school with space and staff.
Smith said they can’t cut back on staff. Tuttle said it’s hard to get staff to work in the summer. Offering the daily pay rate has helped. The county school system gets a handful of AmeriCorps volunteers for the summer program.
Housing, other concerns
Close said that housing is a big concern for attracting teachers here. They’ve had a lot of interest in teaching positions from people in southern West Virginia, but they can’t afford to live here with the housing costs.
Governor’s Representative Daryl Cowles asked about the bonuses that school employees received if they had fewer than five sick days a year. Tuttle said it was for classroom teachers only. School Treasurer Ann Bell said that maybe 20-25 teachers took advantage of it.
Tuttle told legislators that they really liked the new statewide screener that the Third Grade Success Act required them to use. It offers individual skill gap practice. They want to continue to use it.
“Vote for it,” she said.
Tuttle also said that dealing with charter schools, virtual schools and Hope scholarships has been a lot for central office staff. Some students can participate in everything in public schools while others get charged. Schools can’t use state funds for athletics, but they can use scholarship money for athletics. People don’t understand.
When a virtual student needs special services, the first step may be to a public-school system, but they may not be mandated to provide them, Close said.
Pay raise, program cuts
Trump said it’s possible that a pay raise for school employees will occur this session that begins in January. It has to come to committee first. Trump is also trying to encourage colleges to offer associate degrees.
Delegate Darren Thorne said the House of Delegates wants to hear about the mandated state programs that schools would like to see cut.
Tuttle said that a lot of the programs are decided by the counties and that Morgan County Schools is going through that process now.
Close suggested they look at class sizes in 2026-27 if a lot of kids aren’t at grade level. Tuttle said it’s better to keep class sizes smaller for better academic achievement.
Staffing is still an issue. Morgan County Schools still needs bus drivers, nurses and substitutes and has three counselor vacancies, Tuttle said. Substitutes get no benefits and other counties are paying more.
County schools have around 18 long-term substitute teachers and about 12 teachers with alternative certifications, which is helping fill positions.