Upshur County Public Library Director Paul Norko speaks with Upshur County Board of Education members regarding approval of continued funding for the library. Norko’s request for funding was approved unanimously during Tuesday’s BOE meeting.

Library requests additional funding from BOE due to shortfall; instructional support specialist assigned to county schools

BUCKHANNON – Upshur County Board of Education members on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve continued funding for the Upshur County Public Library in the amount of $93,700.

However, due to the loss of their major fundraiser and a grant, the library has requested additional funding, a matter the BOE will take up when considering the fiscal year 2022 budget.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Upshur County Public Library Director Paul Norko told the Board there were some shortfalls in the UCPL budget last year, which stemmed, in part, from not being able to host the 2020 ramp dinner fundraiser and resulted in a net loss of $12,500. The library also lost a West Virginia Service Center Enhancement Grant for $14,500.

“That caused a budget deficit last year of approximately $26,000 for the Upshur County Public Library,” Norko said. “We made up the year with only $8,000 in shortfall because during COVID, we had to furlough some of our employees and ended up closing the library from March 24 through June 1, 2020, and not replacing one of our part-time positions.”

Norko highlighted how vital the library is to the school system, and the interconnection of the two entities, reporting that recently, class visits from Tennerton Elementary School started again.

“Before COVID, we had 10 of the 12 classes at TES visiting the UCPL weekly or biweekly,” Norko said. “Right now, we have been having three TES classes visiting the library.”

He said while Upshur County Schools were in complete remote learning mode, there were more than 430 Upshur County School Students using iPads at the library, adding that, since January, there have been 94 students using iPads.

“It has dropped off, but there is still a significant number of students using iPads to access Schoology and the KidsConnect network,” Norko said. “Also, Angie Westfall, Buckhannon-Upshur High School Librarian, has coordinated with us to host the AP testing for the first week. We are also partnering with Tennerton Elementary School and Principal Tristen Gray on his Summer Learning Program which runs from June 14 through July 9. We are expecting some class visits from them during their program.”

Norko said the UCPL five-year strategic plan, as it relates to the Upshur County Schools, is one that is changing.

“One thing I would like to do is be able to get library cards for all K-12 students over the next five years,” Norko said. “I would like to see visits to the UCPL from students in schools other than Tennerton Elementary School. I know there is difficulty with transportation, but we would love to help other schools.”

Norko said before COVID, they started a teen advisory group with Angie Westfall.

“We started and then COVID hit and everything went to the wayside,” Norko said. “I would also like to bring back the early dismissal movie days. It would be nice to find a way for more students to travel to the library on those days.”

However, Norko said in order to do more, he would need more funding.

BOE Vice-President Katie Loudin said she feels there are some great projects that could come to fruition.

“If we have feeding sites, is there any way to get books and library materials out with the food?” Loudin asked. “If we cannot get the children to the library in the summer, how much of the library can we get out to them? We are exploring that, and I think there are great things in the strategic plan and we just need to be able to roll up our sleeves and do it.”

BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples asked Upshur County Schools Treasurer Jeffrey Perkins if there was any place in the budget where any additional funding could be found to help support the UCPL.

“Currently, we are developing our budget,” Perkins said. “I will go back and look at any possibilities and see any courses of action we can take, and we can discuss that at our next meeting. I will be glad to take a look and we have [currently] budgeted the proposed $93,700.”

Also, during Tuesday’s BOE meeting, Upshur County BOE members unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding between the West Virginia Board of Education, Marshall University and Upshur County Schools for the employment and supervision of an instructional support specialist. Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said Upshur County was one of five West Virginia counties selected to receive a grant for a research project with Marshall University, the State Department of Education and the five counties.

“The project is called the Early Literacy Network of Support,” Stankus said. “What it would be is we would hire a coach to work with two schools – in four classrooms – kindergarten and first grade. The person would actually be an employee of the WV State Department of Education who would give us the money to hire the person and Marshall University would be collecting the research to see the efficacy of this work.”

“What we are seeing now is we are spending time, energy, effort and money to keep students from dropping out of school,” Stankus added. “What we are finding is, it is less effective when students are older. We are looking now at the early learning ages to see what kind of impact on learning we can make in the early years. This program focuses on the early years to get teachers to use research-based practices in the classrooms.”

Stankus said the program would be integrated with the Reggio Emilia approach that is currently be used in the early grades.

“This person would work Monday and Tuesday in one school, Thursday and Friday at the other school and use Wednesday to be totally immersed in the research with Marshall University and the State Department with the new approaches,” Stankus said. “They will collect data. This is a three-year project. Research says it takes three to five years to collect good data. After that point, the candidate could be part of a fellowship that will continue this research.”

Stankus said the opportunity to participate is very exciting.

BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond asked how Upshur County was selected to participate in the initiative. Stankus said Upshur County was selected because it is one of five counties in West Virginia on the statewide system of support.

“Because of our data, our low achievement, we get a lot of opportunities to help us improve achievement,” Stankus said. “We are still on the watchlist, and we are working hard to move in the right direction.”

One final highlight of the Upshur County BOE meeting is that Upshur County BOE was selected for an $80,000 Environmental Protection Agency Grant for 2020 Diesel Emissions Reduction Act for school bus rebates and bus replacement costs. Director of Transportation Jodie Akers gave some information on the DERA grant.

“The DERA grant is the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act through the EPA,” Akers said. “DERA allows the EPA to offer rebates to replace old diesel engines. It offers up to $20,000 per bus, depending on the engine type of the replacement vehicle.”

Akers said both DERA grants Upshur County Schools has received have offered $20,000 per bus, compared to the typical $3,000 they would receive if the buses were sold through sealed bids.

“With the last grant, we applied to replace one transit bus and three conventional busses,” she said. “According to West Virginia Code, the bus replacement funding is based on buses on a 12-year replacement cycle and our county receives 8.33 percent of the current replacement value of the bus each year.”

Akers said their allotment from the state has increased, thanks to replacing the buses.

“We are behind in replacing our buses, but we are moving ahead rapidly,” Akers said. “We are very excited to be the recipient of this second DERA grant in a row. For us to receive this funding two years in a row is wonderful and exciting.”

Perkins told BOE members if they replace four school buses each year, they will be in compliance with state code by 2030.

“I realize that is 10 years away, but we are moving into that direction,” Perkins said.

Stankus pointed out that the newer the buses are, the less money the county will have to spend on fixing problems.

“I think we are going to see a lot more efficiency in our transportation system,” Stankus said.

Check back with My Buckhannon to see who was named as Upshur Stars and to learn more about the Upshur County BOE Student Board Representative. The next Upshur County BOE meeting is scheduled for 7:05 p.m., Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. There is a budget meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 7:30 a.m. and a meeting which is reconvened from March 9, 2021, which will be held Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 7 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

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