Wood County Board of Education holds transfer hearings

Photo by Michael Erb Sean Francisco, director of personnel and legal counsel for Wood County Schools, stands while addressing the Wood County Board of Education during Tuesday’s transfer hearings in front of the Wood County Board of Education while Superintendent John Flint, left, West Virginia Education Association representative Ben Barkey, center, and Parkersburg High School social studies teacher Brian Kesterson listen to Francisco’s opening statements.

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Board of Education held two hearings Tuesday for Parkersburg High School teachers contesting their transfers to other schools.

In both cases the school board voted to continue the transfers, saying a decline in student enrollment and a drop in state funding made the moves necessary.

Parkersburg High School social studies teacher Brian Kesterson and math teacher Elizabeth Lockney requested the hearings. Positions in both departments were eliminated and each was the least-senior teacher in their respective positions. Kesterson has worked at PHS for three years and Lockney for two.

Sean Francisco, director of personnel for Wood County Schools and legal counsel for the board, said both were being transferred to other schools and were guaranteed positions with the school system.

Francisco said the reductions were necessary as PHS had lost student enrollment and Wood County Schools employs more teachers than are paid for through the state school funding formula. He emphasized neither transfer was due to any issues with the teachers themselves and performance is not used as a factor in determining who gets transferred.

“It all comes down to funding, and funding is precipitated on your student enrollment,” Francisco said.

Kesterson, who is being transferred to Hamilton Middle School, said his skills were best utilized in a high school setting. Kesterson has a background in research and history, and has authored several books on local history and won several local awards.

Kesterson presented letters from area historians, students and testimony from former PHS Principal Pam Goots.

Lockney argued reducing the school’s math department would cause more at-risk students to fail math courses.

“It’s going to increase our class sizes and not help the students that are struggling,” she said. “I would love to be at PHS, but I don’t think any school would benefit from cutting a math position.”

The two hearings lasted more than two hours.

During the same meeting, a Parkersburg South High School teacher whose contract was not being renewed asked the school board to reconsider and brought family, friends and co-workers to the meeting to speak on his behalf.

Chris “Crush” Rusher is working under a probationary contract while getting his teaching certification, a process he said would be completed this month. He was not, however, included in a list of contract renewals.

Rusher is credited with creating an embedded school of business within South, something not found at any other high schools.

“I have a distinct love for this,” he said. “I want to teach and I’ve given up a great deal to make it happen.”

The board did not take any action, approving the renewal list without his name attached.

“All the things we’ve heard here today all deal with dollar bills,” said board President Lawrence Hasbargen. “We are losing student enrollment and state funding. Right now you all are feeling the effects of it.”