Editor’s note: Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce, My Buckhannon, WVWC Student Senate and Channel 3 Buckhannon sponsored the Wednesday, March 16 Candidate Forum, which focused on the city council and Upshur County Board of Education races. You may view the forum in its entirety here.
BUCKHANNON – Eight candidates who are hoping to fill three available Upshur County Board of Education seats joined together Wednesday evening to give Upshur County voters the opportunity to learn more about them.
The March 16 Candidate Forum, hosted at West Virginia Wesleyan College, was sponsored by the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce, WVWC Student Senate, My Buckhannon and Channel 3. All 12 candidates running for the Upshur County Board of Education were invited to participate in the Candidate Forum.
Sean Harris, director of the Event Center at Brushy Fork, served as the moderator for the evening, during which candidates answered submitted questions and shared a bit about their background.
David Chipps, who is running in District 1, was asked his opinion of funding availability to parents who want to home school their students or send them to private schools. Chipps said he was not totally against the measure.
“I can understand that there are cases where parents would want to send their kids to a private school – one of those being for religious reasons – but I hate to see funding being taken away from public schools as well,” Chipps said. “I sit on the middle of the fence on this one, and I have mixed feelings. There is a part of me that says, ‘I understand why parents would want to be able to take those students and use funds – be it Montessori or something especially if you have a higher achieving student that needs to move on or an underachieving student who needs special help.’
“I think there needs to be reasons, and I think there needs to be guidelines,” Chipps added.
Brandon Weese, a District 2 candidate, responded to a question about where he thought the Upshur County School system could acquire funding to update or replace the ailing Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.
“I believe there is a need for a new middle school, and I believe there needs to be more options than a Cadillac option,” Weese said. “We need to look at other funding sources. Some of the ideas I had was to look at local businesses – if they give us funding, we could name a hallway after them or a gymnasium, something of that nature. I definitely think there is a need so we do not keep dumping money into it and I think our kids deserve the best we can provide them.”
Tom O’Neill, who is running in District 1, responded to a question about expanded vocational and technical classes being available to students and how those could be implemented in the current schools.
“I think there is an absolute need for increased vocational education,” O’Neill said. “I work with an organization called the West Virginia Aerospace Alliance and, in that industry, and over the next 10 years, one-third of the global workforce needs to be switched out due to retirements. These are the kind of jobs they have with large aviation facilities that pay significant wages with benefits right off the bat.”
Each candidate was asked what their current occupation is and how long they have resided in Upshur County. Jan Craig said she is retired from the Upshur County School system and was thrilled get a job in Upshur County because it was the most respected county in the state.
“I want to bring that back for us,” Craig said. “I have lived her almost 36 years and I love Upshur County. I bleed blue-and-white and think I always will.”
Former Upshur County Schools superintendent Roy Wager said he is currently retired but now serves as a volunteer assistant track coach at the high school.
“I have been an elementary teacher, an elementary principal, I have been the Federal Programs Director and Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, so my whole life has been Upshur County Schools,” Wager shared. “I have lived in Upshur County 50 some years and I have been very happy here.”
Chipps said he was born in Upshur County, graduated from B-UHS, graduated from WVWC and worked at the middle school for 27 years before he transferred to B-UHS to finish up his career.
“I retired in 2016 and have been the head football coach at B-UHS and I am currently the head football coach at B-UMS,” he said. “When I started here, we were the Bridgeport of the area and everyone wanted to come here to Upshur County Schools and I would like to bring that back.”
Weese said he was born and raised in Buckhannon.
“Though I have not been an administrator or a schoolteacher, I have coached the high school boys’ basketball as an assistant coach for three years and I currently am a sales consultant here in Buckhannon at Jenkins Ford,” Weese said. “I want to see excellence returned to Upshur County. I want to see excellence achieved for each student and that is why I am running for Board of Education.”
O’Neill said he was not born in Buckhannon but got here “as soon as [he] could.”
“I am the Buckhannon City Attorney and I maintain a law practice as well,” O’Neill said. “I have been here 29 years.”
District 3 candidate Derrick Aegan said he was born in Buckhannon and has lived here all his life.
“I have a background serving others – that is what my entire career is all about,” Aegan said. “Currently, I work for World Connect here in Buckhannon. This is my home, and this is where I want to see our children grow, thrive and have ideals, values, morals, principles and ethics. I hope they learn those from us as board members, community members.”
Sherry Dean, a District 2 candidate, said she came to Buckhannon when she was 18 years old.
“I have been here for 52 years and started driving bus,” Dean said. “I got my degree in elementary education but did not give up my bus route. I was one of the first in the state who drove a school bus and taught school. I want our school system to go back to the glory days. This was the place to be.”
District 1 candidate Robert Osburn said he was born and raised in Upshur County and has been here all his life.
“I love it here, and I plan to spend the rest of my life here,” Osburn said. “I am happily retired from the U.S. military and I have been at WVWC for the last 15 years. For my real job, it is mostly computers. I also spent 10 years leading Cub Scouts. I have always loved serving and I love serving Upshur County.”
Next, candidates were asked if they would support a charter school in Upshur County. Most of the candidates agreed that they felt Upshur County is too small to support a charter school; however, O’Neill said his support of charter schools would depend on the application received by the board of education.
“The legislature has given boards of education a role to play in that, and as a candidate, I am not going to prejudge every application,” O’Neill said. “I would say it depends. It depends on the group that comes in and what is in the application. It depends on a lot of factors. But I think the data demonstrates that you need a certain population density to make a charter school work. I am not sure we have that here, but I would keep an open mind based on the applications. I think that is the responsible thing to do.”
You can view the entire Candidate Forum, featuring the city council race and Upshur County BOE race, on Channel 3’s YouTube channel here.