PARKERSBURG - Wood County Schools will add two more Title I schools this fall, bringing the district's total to 12.
John Merritt, director of federal programs for Wood County Schools, said Worthington and Waverly elementary schools will begin receiving federal Title I funds and support for the 2014-15 school year. Title I schools are identified as serving a high number of low-socioeconomic status students, identified through the percentage of free and reduced-price meal program participation.
Nearly 60 percent of Worthington's students qualified for free and reduced-price meals during the 2013-14 school year, while Waverly was at 60 percent, according to numbers provided by the school system. Merritt said officials identify potential Title I schools as any that have more than half of their school population on the meal program, but because the federal funding is based on district-wide numbers, only a handful of schools are actually designated by Wood County as Title I.
"We fund as many schools as we can, starting with those schools that we can have a significant impact on," he said. In the case of Worthington and Waverly, "these are small schools
Merritt said federal guidelines allow schools with 35 percent or more of their student body qualifying for subsidized meals to be labeled as Title I, "but if we used that as our cutoff all of our schools would qualify" and the pool of federal funds would be too thinly dispersed, he said.
With the new Title I label, Worthington and Waverly schools will each receive a Title I instructor who specializes in reading. The schools also will qualify for some additional personnel training as well as funds for technology and "parent involvement" events.
Even as the school system adds Title I schools, officials have seen a decrease in the number of students qualifying for meal assistance.
"All of our percentages decreased in terms of the number of eligible students," Merritt said. "It was an unusual year."
The past year bucked the trend of the past five years, he said, where the school system has seen a steady increase in need. In 2013-14 the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals in Wood County Schools dropped by nearly 7 percent, which equaled more than 1,000 students. Merritt said the school system does not include pre-kindergarten student or high school students who are 18 or older when determining those percentages.
"We are about 250 students less in terms of total population, but we lost 1,007 students in terms of qualifying students," he said. Officials are unsure why there was a drop, but Merritt said similar drops have been seen in counties throughout the state.
All of those numbers, both locally and statewide, are based off totals taken in October of last year, he said. Additional students are signed up as the school year continues, but funding is based off of those initial totals.