Kanawha school board debates hiring a spokesperson

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Schools has gone without an official spokesperson for 14 years, but Ryan White, who ran a campaign on improving communication between the board and public, wants to see that change.

In his second meeting as a board member, White suggested the school system needs to have some kind of communications specialist, whether it be in the form of a dedicated staff member, a contracted worker or one shared with another RESA III school district.

White said he spoke with a representative for Wayne County Schools, who said it was odd for a school system as large as Kanawha County to not have someone in charge of public relations.

Superintendent Ron Duerring said while there isn’t a dedicated communications director, there are staff members who fill the job duties of one.

He said Ronald Pauley, director and coordinator of supportive services, writes press releases and engages the public from time to time, though not to the extent of what White is proposing.

Becky Jordon said she likes the idea of having someone in charge of communications, but wants to table it because she feels Duerring “is at the front of the line” answering questions that come to the board. She also said the board has two newspapers and television stations to get news out.

Some would not agree with Jordon’s claims. In fact, several board candidates in May’s election, in addition to White, promised to improve the way the board communicated with the public if they were elected.

“There isn’t a true communicative process,” one candidate said in a Daily Mail editorial board meeting in April. “When people don’t know what’s going on, it breeds frustration and anger.”

It can also lead to the public missing out on good news, too.

White said he was told about three student scholars in St. Albans who were honored last month that no one knew about.

“It didn’t hit the press,” he said. “That’s something that should be known.”

Board President Robin Rector said the board is certainly missing opportunities to share success stories among other things, but offered to see if the board’s parent leadership committee could take on some of the responsibilities.

If the board were to hire a communications director, the position would pay a salary of $50,000, according to a school official.

That number didn’t sit well with Pete Thaw, who was a member of the board when it and former spokesman Randy Shillingburg had a controversial breakup in 2000.

He and Jordon, who also was a member at the time, agreed that the board has done fine communicating with the public since then.

Thaw asked other board members if they really wanted to spend $50,000 on a “PR person who won’t do anything to educate one person.”

Jordon said even if the board had the money for one, she would rather it be spent on something else more important.

Duerring, who was superintendent the last time the board had a spokesperson, said the school system is going to have a new website and social media presence that will improve communication. There also will be a Kanawha County Schools application, he said. Each will launch by the start of school next month.

In other business, the board discussed state school board member William White’s comments that the state wanted to take over Kanawha County’s West Side schools due to years of poor performance.

The Charleston Gazette published the comments Thursday, but William White later refuted he ever made such a recommendation, which caused several board members to question if the West Side was in danger of a takeover.

“How are we going to handle his ridiculous claim for us to give up the West Side district?” Thaw asked Duerring, who later said he will respond to the state board by sending information about the progress in that district’s three schools.

Thaw wasn’t satisfied with that answer and asked Duerring what the board would do specifically to oppose the state from interfering with what the county is trying to do.

“I’m not sure this is even an issue,” Duerring said.

“It is when a state board member says he wants to carve out a part of our district,” Thaw said. “Is there a misunderstanding?”

Duerring and other board members weren’t sure if there was any truth to the claims, and Duerring said he will speak with state board members to clear up issues, if there are any.

“We have done an outstanding job on the West Side,” Thaw said. “It’s a model on how to work in a difficult area. I can’t believe this board isn’t more concerned.”

The board also approved the purchasing of 14 school buses through a state contract with Matheney Motor Truck Company for $1.3 million.

It also approved the purchasing and installation of new auditorium seating at Capital High School for $122,407.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.

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