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Upshur County Schools Superintendent Christy Miller during the county board of education's Dec. 19, 2023, meeting in the B-UHS Auditorium. / (Photo by Katie Kuba)

Superintendent apologizes for previously misspent funds, is working with outside law firm to prepare upcoming levy call

TENNERTON – “If I could win the lottery tonight, I would have $5 million and some odd dollars, and I wouldn’t have to run a levy to do this, but it’s important,” the Upshur County Schools superintendent said at last board of education meeting of 2023.

At the Upshur County Board of Education’s Dec. 19 meeting, Superintendent Christy Miller acknowledged that asking residents to vote in favor of the continuation of an excess levy was a big ask. However, during her report, Miller said she had no choice but to place the excess levy call on the May 14, 2024, Primary Ballot and acknowledged voters’ frustration in the wake of the West Virginia Board of Education’s vote to take over the school system in June of 2023.

“I know it’s a stretch to try to ask – particularly when funds, not on my watch, were not expended as they were supposed to be – and I deeply apologize to this community that that happened,” Miller said. “I know it’s hard – I know it.”

While the majority of the December report focused on the misspending of federal funds, it did flag some issues with levy purchases and said the county should ensure all future purchases are made in accordance with the levy call, be bid out when necessary and obtain any required board approval.

The excess levy, approved by Upshur County voters for more than 22 consecutive years, was defeated in the November 2022 General Election by a slim margin of 166 votes – 3,164 to 2,998, according to a previous article. The current levy passed overwhelmingly in a special January 2019 Election and remains in effect for a five-year term.

However, that term will expire on June 30, 2024, unless the second attempt at passing the levy is approved in the May Primary Election.

Miller said Central Office administrators are working with the Charleston-based law firm Bowles Rice, LLP, to develop the levy call.

“They are very well-versed in education law,” she said. “We have sent things to them about what we would like to see in that levy – the amount that’s tied directly to payments that the finance department was able to give to me about what an average might look like, and in particular, ‘How much did we spend in each of those areas over the last years?’”

The proposed levy will ask voters to OK spending levy monies in the following areas:

  • Specific areas of instruction
  • Supplies, materials and equipment
  • Technology access
  • Capital improvements and preventative maintenance
  • Compensation for substitute employees
  • Extracurricular activities and extended employment agreements
  • Contracted services, including PROs or Preventative Resource Officers

Miller said levy funds would support the addition of an itinerant Prevention Resource Officer, who would travel among the county’s seven elementary schools.

“We are going to look at putting in a PRO officer that will travel among our elementary schools as well,” Miller said. “I think they may have been in place previously, but they did not continue with that funding.”

“So, we are going to be able to put that in place,” she continued. “I just got approval from the state today (Dec. 19, 2023) that that contract looks good, and we need to move forward with that.”

Other categories in which levy funds would be spent include:

  • Compensation for an athletic trainer and bus expenses for extracurricular field trips
  • Support of student accident insurance coverage
  • Student and community-related services

“We’re talking about continuing free admission to extracurricular events for the same groups of folks that have had it in the past – senior citizens, our students, and we’re adding current service personnel as well as veterans,” Miller said.

Finally, the levy would support the Upshur County Public Library, the WVU 4-H Extension Office and the Stockert Youth & Community Center.

“Those services that are provided by those particular entities are vital to this community, and we’ve got to make sure that we continue to support them,” the superintendent said.

Following the levy discussion, Miller said Central Office administrators, including herself and Assistant Superintendent Russ Collett, aim to travel to each county school.

“We want to start doing regular visits to the schools, classrooms and events,” she said. “We’ve really been mucked and mired in operations and getting things there, so the second semester, we’re going to be going out into the classrooms and schools more.”

In addition, Upshur County Schools will begin live-streaming board of education meetings.

“We have had several requests to begin live-streaming meetings, so we have been working with the school system’s technology department on that,” Miller said.

Live streaming would occur via the purchase of a rotating conference room webcam.

“It’s called an Owl, and it has a 360-degree view, so it picks up everything – whoever’s speaking it goes to them,” she said. “It’s portable — that’s the greatest thing – and it hooks right into [Microsoft] Teams, so as soon as we’re able to procure that, we will start streaming meetings.”

Miller said she has a two-year contract as Upshur County Superintendent and will likely retire after that.

“You need to know that I didn’t take this job just to say I had a job; I’m very invested in this because I care,” she said. “I could’ve retired, but I didn’t because I wanted to come here and make a difference, and I’m going to do everything I can, and so is Steve [Wotring, interim part-time superintendent] and so is Russ [Collett, assistant superintendent] to make that happen.”

“We’re spending countless hours doing this – we really and truly are,” she added. “You have not seen all the fruits of our efforts yet, but we’re going to keep that going, and we are going to make this system what it should be and what it should always have been.”

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