Wood BOE upholds employee transfers

More hearings to be held Thursday afternoon

Wood County Board of Education President Rick Olcott gives instruction at the beginning of Tuesday’s special meeting where the board held four employee transfer hearings. Another five hearings will be held Thursday and officials expect to call at least one more special meeting this month. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Board of Education upheld four contested service personnel transfers Tuesday, the first of several employee hearings scheduled this month.

Three custodians and a secretary are among 13 employees contesting transfers as part of the school system’s annual reduction-in-force and transfer process.

Every year the district calculates the amount of per-pupil state funding it will receive and adjusts its employee account accordingly. In many cases positions above the school funding formula can be taken care of through retirements and resignations, but in more recent years the school system has been faced with eliminating positions, and in some cases employees.

Superintendent Will Hosaflook said this year the school system is nearly 44 professional positions and more than 66 service positions over the school aid formula. This year alone, the school system has lost 443 students, and is down about 1,300 students since 2012, resulting in a reduction of more than $4 million in state funding.

All four employees Tuesday agreed to open hearings, with Hosaflook presenting information on the position reductions and the employees asking questions or arguing why they should remain at their current positions. None of the four faced unemployment, but all were being moved from their present schools, and in some cases the new positions offered shorter contracts and less money.

Freda Hewitt, who has served as a custodian at Jefferson Elementary Center for 24 years, is being transferred to Jackson Middle School after the Jefferson position was cut. Hewitt was one of four employees to request a hearing with the Wood County Board of Education Tuesday. Board members voted to uphold the transfer. (Photo by Michael Erb)

Freda Hewitt, who has served as a custodian at Jefferson Elementary Center for 24 years, is being transferred to Jackson Middle School after the Jefferson position was cut.

“I’ve been there for 24 years. It’s home to me,” she said. “I just wanted to question, why me? How long do I have to work before (the transfer process) doesn’t affect me?”

A part-time custodial position at the board office is being eliminated as well. Hosaflook said he plans to bring back the position at Jackson but with additional duties at the board office.

“I’m still trying to figure out why you are transferring a 261 contract (out of the school) only to put a 261 back,” Hewitt said. “The whole process doesn’t make sense to me.”

Hosaflook said state law does not allow him to modify an existing contract.

Custodian Damon Sampson is in his third year at Parkersburg South High School and is being transferred to Fairplains Elementary School. The Wood County Board of Education held an employee hearing for Sampson Tuesday and voted to uphold the transfer. (Photo by Michael Erb)

“We would be facing a grievance,” he said. “I have to cut the position and post a new position.”

The board voted 4-1, with board member Debbie Hendershot against, to uphold the transfer.

Hewitt’s transfer to Jackson will bump custodian Sean Stutler, who will be transferred to Williamstown Elementary School. Stutler is in the third year of a probationary contract, and the move will bump him down to a lower-length contract.

Stutler was represented Tuesday by Tim Bolick with the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association. Bolick asserted Stutler was a valuable member of the staff at Jackson, reading a letter of recommendation from Principal Richard Summers, and said employees were shouldering too much of the financial burden of Wood County Schools.

“A loss of pay like that, it changes lifestyles. It has an impact,” Bolick said. With talk of replacing the position at Jefferson, “I’m confused as to why he can’t just stay there” at Jackson.

Hosaflook said several of the transfers brought to the board Tuesday may not occur due to retirements and the creation of new positions, but the school system is required by law to follow a specific process.

The board voted 5-0 to uphold Stutler’s transfer.

Custodian Damon Sampson is in his third year at Parkersburg South High School and is being transferred to Fairplains Elementary School.

Sampson claimed a transfer among custodial staff at Parkersburg High School was done improperly with a more-senior custodian having his job eliminated rather than a less-senior custodian with the same contract length. Sampson said this caused a domino effect of transfers which eventually reached his position and caused his current transfer.

“That case directly affects my case if it was done improperly,” he said. “I’m just trying to find a loophole to save myself.”

Officials said they did not know the specific details, but a 261-day contract position at PHS was cut. Since there were no other 261-day positions available, Sampson was bumped into a 215-day position.

“A position at PHS was cut,” Hosaflook said. Regardless of which 261-day custodial position at the school was cut, “it would still result in your current situation.”

Sampson said he also was concerned he would lose summer income by dropping to a lower contract.

“That’s a five-week gap in getting paid,” he said.

Hosaflook said Sampson would still be able to bid on summer work and would be able to use his banked personal leave during the summer if needed.

The board voted 4-1, with Hendershot against, to keep Sampson on the transfer list.

Secretary Sheila Belcher has been at the Wood County Schools central office for 22 years and works for both the district’s Curriculum and Instruction department and Health Services. She is being transferred to a secretary position at Jefferson Elementary Center.

Belcher also was represented by Bolick during Tuesday’s hearing, and the two noted Belcher has numerous responsibilities at the district office and assists county officials with student events and competitions throughout the year.

“There seems to me there are a lot of things she does,” Bolick said. “This position being eliminated was quite a shock to Mrs. Belcher. She described it to me as ‘gut-wrenching.'”

Belcher listed some of her duties, which included preparation and distribution of hundreds of health forms for school nurses, awards and certificates, programs for events and school handbooks. In many instances she designs forms which are used throughout the county, and handles nearly all of the printing needs for the district’s central office.

“I do a lot, and I do many things for many people,” Belcher said. “I love my job and I’d love to be able to keep my job. I do believe that my job is very much needed in this building.”

The board voted 4-1, with Hendershot against, to keep Belcher on the transfer list.

Five more hearings are planned for 2 p.m. Thursday at the board office. The meeting is open to the public, though each employee is given the option of holding the hearing behind closed doors.

Hosaflook said another hearing date likely will be scheduled this month as well. All hearings must be completed prior to May 1.