BUCKHANNON – Upshur County residents let their voices be heard and rejected the Upshur County bond call proposal in a vote that culminated Saturday. The final tally was 767-3,451 against constructing a new comprehensive career and technical high school and upgrading the current high school into a reimagined middle school.
Upshur County Clerk Carol J. Smith said there was greater than normal participation in early voting with 1,951 residents voting early and 103 voters requesting absentee ballots. The results of the election are preliminary and will not be official until Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, following the canvass which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.
In a press release, Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said the $49 million bond rejection was disheartening.
“We appreciate the voters and supporters who have taken time to learn about the bond issue and focus on the importance of education in our community,” Stankus said in the release. “While we are disheartened to learn the result of the election, our public has spoken and are satisfied with the schools we currently have. We are thankful to have carried the ideals of the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP) back to our community for their consideration.”
Stankus noted that a large portion of the operating budget for the Upshur County School System goes toward the repair and maintenance of the county’s aging school facilities.
“We will continue to provide schools where all students can learn and succeed,” Stankus said. “While the bond proposed construction would have addressed a number of improvements, Upshur County Schools will assess our most urgent needs, allocate our resources appropriately and work toward a solution.”
Upshur County Board of Education President Dr. Tammy Samples said the school board would look for new ways to provide quality facilities for students.
“As always, our goal is to continue to provide a quality education for our students,” Samples said. “The board will refine educational and facilities plans as new directions are considered.”
Members of the Upshur County Board of Education, Stankus, Upshur County Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debra Harrison, Foundation for Better Schools member Don Nestor, Ted Shriver of Williamson Shriver Architects, Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner and Jeffrey Perkins, Upshur County Schools financial director, gathered Saturday evening at the Upshur County Courthouse to follow along with the incoming election results.
Due to a technical error, the complete results of the election were delayed. Votes from Precinct 7, the Selbyville Fire Department, came in about 1.5 hours after the last reporting precinct and were not available until nearly 11 p.m. Saturday night.
As the results of the vote came in, Stankus said, “Of course, we are disheartened to learn of the results of the election. On the other hand, we have to listen to our public and they have spoken very clearly that they did not support the bond. We will move on from there and adjust our plans.”
When asked about plans to add additional career and technical programs to the high school and add a two-year associate degree program, Stankus said that would move forward.
“Absolutely we are going to continue to move forward with those plans,” Stankus said. “The CTE, the associate degree and the plan for those pursuing teaching degrees will still happen because it is already in the works. Our plan to improve student achievement in Upshur County will continue.”
Harrison said the school system will not stop looking for innovative ways to support local students.
“We will move forward to provide the best education possible for our students,” Harrison said. “Being innovative and creative, and preparing our students for their future will be the work we continue.”
BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond said he feels Upshur County is blessed with good citizens.
“Right now, they did the right thing and voted,” Almond said. “We still are going to keep doing what we can for the sake of the children.”
Skinner said it was a sad night for the community.
“It was a pretty definitive response from the voters,” Skinner said. “We have a lot of work to do in this community because we have a school that is over 100-years-old and is full of deferred maintenance. There has been a lot of misinformation spread about this Vision for the Future initiative.”
Skinner said he supports the Upshur County Board of Education.
“I believe the Board of Education was transparent and they held several public meetings during the summer that lead up to this to share information with the public,” he said. “It is up to the public to attend those meetings if they want the real information. I still think we have a great school system and a great community. This is a setback, but we will figure out the next course of action because we have to replace this school. There is no doubt about it – we have to replace this school. We just have to figure out the plan of action to do it.”
This is the second time the school system has sought funds to replace the aging middle school. The last local bond election, which proposed to build a new Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, was rejected in 2011. Perkins said the last Upshur County School system bond call that passed was in 1974-1975; funding from that was used to build the current Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
The Upshur County School System invites the community to share their reasoning behind their vote. Voters are welcome to respond to a survey which is available at www.upshurschools.com.