Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner / (My Buckhannon file photo)

Mayor: ‘If we want to get back to being the best, we must invest, and the time is now!’

Editor’s note: The following column was submitted for publication by Robbie Skinner, Mayor of the City of Buckhannon.

BUCKHANNON – In the mid-1990s, I was a student at both Academy Primary and Buckhannon Intermediate Schools, which are now, of course, the combined Buckhannon Academy Elementary on College Avenue.

At that time, Upshur County Schools did not have a supported excess levy. Materials for learning were sparse. Notebook paper and pencils were rationed, and each classroom only had one textbook per subject.

Fortunately, my mother, as well as other parents of my classmates, took turns coming to the school each day to make copies of that one classroom textbook, so each student could complete evening homework assignments. That might be difficult to imagine now, given that the Upshur County School district has now had a continuous, supported excess levy since 1999 for the past 25 years.

In the mid-1990s, our surrounding county school systems enjoyed the benefits of supported excess levies. Students in those classrooms and schools each had textbooks – not just one outdated, beat-up, and faded book for everyone to share. Teachers had access to the necessary materials to enhance the educational experience – all to better prepare their students for the future.

At that time, Upshur County teachers, students and schools had to do with less – and in some cases, completely without – but we were still expected to not only keep up with our neighboring school systems but to advance beyond them. However, the lack of excess levy funding made that much more difficult.

In the mid-1990s, if our students were involved in extra-curricular activities, parents had to drive us to events, because, without a supported levy in place, Upshur County Schools could not always afford to pay overtime to bus drivers for those trips across North Central West Virginia.

When I was in high school in the early to mid-2000s after Upshur County’s levy was approved in 1999, I remember one of our neighboring counties losing its levy – one that had been supported for many years. All of a sudden, parents over there were bringing their football, basketball, soccer, baseball, and band students here to Buckhannon and elsewhere for games and competitions.

This was a significant burden to place on their students, parents, and programs, and as a result, not only did their county-wide participation in extra-curricular activities decrease, but unfortunately, so did their test scores. Their students were expected to perform at the same levels as if they were graduating from a high school funded by a levy. That is not a level playing field.

We cannot allow this to happen here… again. When Upshur County was also without a supported school levy, the same happened here. Simply put, whether it be elementary, middle or high school, students in Upshur County at that time missed out on receiving the best education possible.

Our teachers did the best they could, but their resources were stretched entirely too thin. We must remember: A child only has one chance at receiving a quality education, and we as a community must accept our portion of the responsibility to make that happen by supporting school levies.

Outside the classroom, supporting school levies has a significant impact on the economic vitality of our community. The first detail corporations look at when they consider where to locate is the school system. If we fail to vote ‘yes’ on Tuesday, May 14, not only will it be nearly impossible to attract new businesses to Upshur County, but we will also risk losing our current employers and families as well.

This vote is critical. The direction our community takes from this point forward is largely dependent on whether our community is willing to invest in a quality, well-funded educational experience for our students, teachers, coaches, staff and administrators. Over the past two decades, Buckhannon has become one of the shining stars of Appalachia. We have such a beautiful, vibrant small city because our citizens have deliberately invested in our future. We have come too far to start sliding backward.

Upshur County has so many wonderful teachers, coaches, staff members and administrators. I am related to several – both past and present. We have intelligent students who want to learn, and who have received high honors for their work on a state-wide level. Our system is full of good news.

Unfortunately, however, for the past year, the perception has been that “our school system is in trouble.” Yes, mistakes and wrongdoing have taken place in the past, but those responsible are no longer here, and we must look forward. We cannot punish our students for mistakes they did not make.

Superintendent Christy Miller is honest, and transparent, and works 12-hour days every day to correct the damage done within the Board Office. She has vowed that monthly reports will be made available to the public showing every single levy expense. If there was ever a perfect time to vote for a school levy, it’s now. I trust Mrs. Miller wholeheartedly and believe Upshur County Schools will rise back to our glory under her watch.

I’ll close with this: We have always enjoyed a legacy of being a fiercely proud community, and we should be. We have achieved excellence from our fine arts and academics to our athletics and in our entire city and county. We are so fortunate to live in, unequivocally, the best small city in Appalachia.

Part of expressing our pride in our hometown is sharing our responsibility for investment in our schools. If we want to be the best, we have to earn it, and earning it means rolling up our sleeves and standing up for students because they will be the ones carrying on our legacy. If we, the mighty Buccaneer faithful, truly bleed royal blue and white like I think we do, we need to show it at the ballot box.

I am sincerely asking you, as someone who gives his heart and soul to this community every day, please join me in voting ‘yes’ to renew the current excess levy for Upshur County Schools. Our kids need your support now more than ever!

Robbie Skinner
Mayor, City of Buckhannon

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