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McKinley Elementary, Worthington Elementary to close at end of school year

Wood County BOE to vote on Waverly Elementary closure Oct. 23

Wood County Board of Education President Rick Olcott speaks during the closing moments of Thursday’s consolidation hearing at Jefferson Elementary Center. The board approved the closure of Worthington and McKinley elementary schools and will vote on Waverly Elementary on Oct. 23. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Board of Education has approved closing two elementary schools at the end of this year, but a vote on a third school will not come until later this month.

The board Thursday wrapped up four days of school closure, consolidation and merger hearings. At the end of Thursday’s hearings, the board voted 5-0 to close Worthington Elementary School and 4-1 to close McKinley Elementary School, with Debbie Hendershot the lone vote against, at the end of the current school year.

A vote on Waverly Elementary School was delayed due to a typo in the school’s closure documents, which moved the deadline for written comments from Oct. 2 to Oct. 22. The board will reconvene at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Jefferson Elementary to vote on Waverly, officials said.

Board President Rick Olcott said Thursday’s votes were the culmination of months of work and careful thought.

“There has been a huge amount of work with this, a tremendous amount of analysis,” he said. “We do not take this lightly and it hurts us all to go through this.”

William Law chokes up while talking about his grandson who receives services through special education programs at McKinley Elementary School. Numerous staff members and parents expressed concerns over plans to close McKinley, which has a large number of special needs and low-socioeconomic students, and merge it with Jefferson Elementary Center, which also has high numbers of at-need students. (Photo by Michael Erb)

Board member Justin Raber, who made the motion to approve both closure votes Thursday, said the board has little choice but to move forward with consolidation.

“We are running out of financial resources and will potentially deplete our reserves in 20-24 months,” Raber said. “We cannot take a wait-and-see attitude. This has been kicked down the road long enough.”

While numerous people have called for delays in consolidation, officials say closing those buildings is the only way to prevent Wood County Schools from running out of savings within the next two years. Finance Director Whitni Kines said the school system will use an estimated $2 million of its $4.8 million in savings to operate during the 2019-20 school year and the district may exhaust its savings during the 2020-21 school year. The board will have more solid numbers for a budget work session in November, she said.

Board member Ron Tice said it is a painful but necessary decision.

“It does bother me, and I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m going to vote with my head, but my heart is with the schools,” he said.

Community members listen as the Wood County Board of Education votes on closing Worthington and McKinley elementary schools during Thursday’s closure hearing at Jefferson Elementary Center. A vote on Waverly Elementary School will be held Oct. 23. (Photo by Michael Erb)

The vote followed hearings at McKinley Elementary School and Jefferson Elementary Center, which will receive students from McKinley. The school was built in 1904 and is one of the oldest operating schools in the county.

McKinley on Thursday saw the heaviest public turnout, with more than 20 people addressing the board.

Supporters of McKinley spoke out against the closure during the first hearing Thursday, arguing merging McKinley with Jefferson would create too large of a student population, especially in special education, and many McKinley students who require additional attention and services will be lost in the shuffle.

Several speakers referred to McKinley as “the last chance” for students, many of whom come from other schools and programs which were unsuccessful in helping those children, they said. Many held back tears or choked up as they described how students without hope were given love and support and thrived as a result.

“It will create additional barriers for students who already have so many barriers,” said parent Julie Hagen.

Retired McKinley Elementary School Principal Fred Shreve addresses the Wood County Board of Education Thursday during a closure hearing at the school. (Photo by Michael Erb)

“This school is a lot like a family. Sometimes this is the only family these children have,” said husband Tim Hagen.

Retired principal Fred Shreve said while he sympathized with the board’s difficult decision, it was up to the board and administrators to make sure the fears of parents and teachers concerning the merger did not come to pass.

Officials “have a responsibility that you don’t consolidate those students into failure,” Shreve said.

Wood County Commission President Blair Couch also addressed the board Thursday during the McKinley hearing, questioning how schools were evaluated for closure and implying the move to combine McKinley and Jefferson could be interpreted as part of an agenda to keep low-socioeconomic students in one place.

“I’m concerned that we’re looking at merging a population as disadvantaged with another population that is extremely disadvantaged. I don’t think this is a win-win,” he said. “It smacks of a … are we trying to keep the poors with the poors?”

Michael Erb can be reached at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

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