Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Tom Williams laid out three potential “no-cost” elementary school consolidation scenarios during a school board meeting Monday evening.
The board is mulling the proposals in light of a decade of declining enrollment and other cost concerns, he said. In West Virginia, student enrollment is directly tied to state funding levels.
No formal action was taken Monday. No consolidation would occur before the 2024-25 school year, following facility reviews, West Virginia Board of Education approval and public hearings for any measure made official.
According to county school system records, 344 students left Kanawha County public schools from the 2021-22 school year to 2022-23. Williams said that loss corresponded to about 55 staff positions. The net student loss the prior year was 380. The net loss in students from fiscal year 2009-10 to 2021-22 was 4,147.
In a board document, Williams said that, next year, the district is facing a projected loss of 58 employees, including 35 professional and 23 service workers, even after a 5% budget reduction that he said saved $1 million and reduced staffing cuts from a projected 72.
Williams said further loss of students, a $700,000 increase in liability insurance premiums he attributed to lawsuit payouts across the state, a $600,000 increase in utility costs and a $100,000 increase in property insurance costs were all factors in considering consolidation.
“Kanawha County Schools is at a critical point. We must make changes to our facilities to provide our students the learning opportunities they deserve while addressing our aging buildings, declining enrollment and budgeting challenges the district faces,” Williams said in a statement. “Consolidation of schools would address several issues we are facing. With fewer schools, we can pool resources, reduce overhead costs and allocate funds to essential areas, such as student programs and teacher training.
“Additionally, consolidation will allow us to upgrade and replace aging facilities, providing students with modern, safe and well-maintained learning environments.”
The first proposal would call for closing Grandview Elementary, in Charleston, and moving those students into Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary and Edgewood Elementary, also in Charleston.
That move also would include cutting nine professional staff and 6.5 service staff positions. Williams said student population for Mary C. Snow would grow to about 381 in a building he said can accommodate 672. Edgewood would grow to about 465 students in a building he said can accommodate 675.
Under that plan, Williams said, some Kanawha County Schools offices, as well as preschool classes and a senior center, could potentially move into the Grandview building.
The second proposal calls for closing Marmet Elementary, in Eastern Kanawha County, and moving students to Chesapeake Elementary. That move would eliminate 5.5 professional staff and 3.5 service staff positions, while maintaining a one-class-per-grade-level setup. Williams said student population there would be about 211.
“It is the better building. Marmet has water running under it. I spoke to our facilities person earlier this afternoon, and he said it may look like Marmet is in better shape, but it absolutely is not,” Williams said.
Combining students from Marmet, Chesapeake and Pratt elementaries into a new building also is being considered, should the board elect to put together a bond package to fund consolidation efforts in the future, Williams said.
The third proposal calls for closing George C. Weimer Elementary in St. Albans and moving students to either Bridgeview Elementary in South Charleston or Alban Elementary in St. Albans.
Bridgeview would grow to 438 students in a building that Williams said can accommodate 719. Alban Elementary would grow to 269 students in a building that can accommodate 524.
Williams said any other consolidation plans would require a bond issue to be placed on the ballot during the 2024 primary or general elections, at the earliest.
“I think this is a first step with ones we can do without any money, but I think we have to look at what we can do with a bond,” Williams said. “Most of them are going to cost money, and we don’t have the money to spend. We have to go out for a bond and let the community tell us, ‘Yeah we want new schools for these kids’ or ‘No we don’t.’”
Williams said the average age is 63 for elementary and middle school buildings in the county and 51 for high schools.
Also Monday, the board approved sale of the former Tyler Middle School property, 3.08 acres, and the 15,550-square-foot building to local business owner Dale Foster, for $65,000 after a late-January auction. According to Williams, Foster plans to turn the site into a community center.
The board also approved a once-every-three-year lease-purchase agreement with Apple Inc., in the amount of $13,139,054, for 2,000 MacBook Air laptops, 25,000 iPads and cases, and related supports. It also approved 2,300 Texas Instruments Ti-Nspire CX II graphing-calculator teacher packs through a bid from the Bach Co. for $327,310, to be paid with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds.