CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County Board of Education voted Thursday to begin next year's classes on Aug. 9 -- the county's earliest start date ever.Due to ongoing problems with heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems in many of the county's school buildings, the early start could subject students to hot classrooms even longer, some board members said.That's why, in addition to approving the new school calendar, the board has requested reliability tests of all air conditioning units before students return to class."The major concern is the reliability of the air conditioning system, regardless of when school starts and ends... We've made a commitment to the public here tonight that we're going to get it fixed, and if we don't, we're going to hold someone accountable for it," said board member Bill Raglin at Thursday's regular board meeting.
The school system has committed more than $20 million in the past year to improving energy efficiency, including upgrades to HVAC systems.Kanawha County Schools Maintenance Superintendent Terry Hollandsworth agreed to conduct thorough inspections of each school's cooling system before class is in session -- something the maintenance department has failed to do in the past, according to board members.Board president Pete Thaw and board member Jim Crawford voted against the new school year, which will have the first day of classes fall on a Friday.Crawford said he had concerns about seniors who would have to return to school after graduation to take Advanced Placement tests. Thaw said it's too big of a risk with the warm temperatures."I simply think it's too hot in the early part of August, and it's also disruptive to start school at that time because it's in the middle of a lot of families' vacations," Thaw said.The early start will also alleviate stress that students face during holiday breaks, Superintendent Ron Duerring said. Currently, Christmas break comes before the first semester is over, leaving a time gap for students just before finals."The thing is that now [students] can go home, relax, enjoy their holidays and not have to come back for a week or two of finals. It lines up and makes sense," Duerring said.Board members also discussed the financial landscape of its current education system, with major cutbacks on the horizon.The budget could face a loss of more than $4 million as early as next year, which would force the board to make tough decisions about which programs to cut and which to keep, Duerring said."We've already taken almost every avenue we can within our means to increase revenues -- we've downsized the school system, we've closed nearly 30 schools and increased Medicaid reimbursements," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to protect the education of our students."Kanawha is the only county in the state with a cap on its excess levy, which prevents the board from spending more than $44 million of taxpayers' dollars each year.
While Duerring admitted budgeting would be easier to do without the cap, Thaw continued to praise the board's decision."We can't take the cap off -- thank god. The people put it on and only the people, by their vote, can take it off, and I certainly hope they don't because they are the beneficiaries," he said.The board also agreed to review facility conditions at South Charleston Middle School, after several parents voiced concerns at Thursday's meeting. The school's locker rooms are unusable and the building faces a variety of physical problems, such as water leaks, limited recreation space and HVAC issues, according to parents.The board's next regular board meeting is Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. at 200 Elizabeth St.Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org