Upshur BOE votes to contribute $13K to advance ‘Field of Dreams’ softball field project

Also: HES principal says cultivating relationships key to improving academic outcomes

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Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus reads a proclamation by Gov. Jim Justice designating Sept. 20, 2019 as West Virginia School Service Personnel Day during Tuesday’s regular BOE meeting held at Hodgesville Elementary School. Stankus recognized each service personnel in attendance and thanked them for their service to Upshur County Schools. Stankus is pictured with Adrienne Hissam, executive secretary to the superintendent of Upshur County Schools.

HODGESVILLE – Upshur County Board of Education members faced a dilemma Tuesday night during their regular meeting held at Hodgesville Elementary School: Should they help pay for the completion of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Girls’ Softball ‘Field of Dreams’ or not?

During the last BOE meeting, ‘Field of Dreams’ committee chairperson, Brett Robinson asked BOE members to contribute to help the field be completed. During that presentation, he said the group had raised and spent more than $50,000 to get to the point they were at, which included setting fence posts, moving the discus cage and grading the outfield.

He said they had reached phase two and that they were well ahead of where they anticipated they would be.

Robinson had explained that had “done more than I planned to do, but the project has me hook, line and sinker.” He then asked the BOE to consider taking on the expenses to complete the field. At that time, BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples told Robinson the request for funding was not on the agenda and said he would need to submit a cost estimate so the matter could be put on the agenda and voted on at a future BOE meeting, after the budget was completed.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Robinson spoke about the request he put in for materials to complete the ‘Field of Dreams’ which was $42,500. The estimate was for material costs only, excluding fencing and said the equipment and labor would be provided by local project supporters.

The list of material cost estimates included $7,500 for a masonry retaining wall, $5,500 for concrete work sidewalk and slabs, $5,000 for dugouts, $12,500 for a perimeter fence, $6,000 for a press box and $6,000 for a scoreboard.

“The infield is completely done, and the fence is completely done, and the bank balance is completely done,” Robinson said during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am not certain, given where we are financially, that we can approve all of this,” Samples said. “Even though Mr. Carver said we are moving forward, there is still the chance of a 4 percent cut in funding from the state. I could probably stand behind doing concrete work for the dugouts.”

Robinson told BOE members the construction needs to go in order.

“If you go through items one to three that would shore up what has already been completed,” he said.

BOE vice president Katie Loudin said the first three items on the list added up to $18,000, which was more than Robinson asked for as a minimum at the previous BOE meeting. Robinson said inflation had taken a toll, since the original estimates four years ago when the project started.

BOE member Kristi Wilkerson asked if there were any other partners who could be contacted for financial assistance. Robinson said he has applied for a grant and understands BOE budget restrictions. He did tell the BOE members that if they did not get the items completed, the cost was only going to grow to complete the field.

Samples asked Carver if item one, construction of a masonry retaining wall for $7,500, would be a place to start, taking the budget concerns into consideration.

“We were talking before this started,” Carver said. “The work the volunteers have put into the field has brought them close to having a field that can be played on. I think it is a difficult decision for us because if we don’t spend the money, as they have pointed out, and we let the field sit and don’t finish it, it will cost us more money to finish the field in the future.”

“I think if we finish the field, we will have more participation in softball,” Robinson said. “Granted, softball is not huge – there are 15 or 20 kids on the team, but there are a lot of kids that don’t have the means to ride their bus home and get back to the middle school to practice by 5:30 p.m. So, I would anticipate it will give more opportunity to the youth at the high school.”

“From the very beginning when we started talking about this field with this board, we made it clear we do not have a lot of funds to support this,” Samples said. “I just don’t know, and have said this from the beginning, $42,000 is a lot of money and I understand your point and Mr. Carver’s point. That’s just my opinion.”

“It just feels from my point if we don’t do something, it’s going to be the ‘Field of Broken Dreams,” Loudin said. “I feel like we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. But obviously, I want the girls to have a great field to play on.”

Wilkerson said she understood the position Robinson was in.

“I’m just not sure I am comfortable voting for five figures tonight,” Wilkerson said. “We have financial updates every meeting. I am just not sure I can support more than $7,500 at this point. If you come back in a few weeks after we have had the opportunity to talk to a few more folks.”

Robinson said it would take approximately two weeks to complete the retaining wall.

Dr. Greenbrier Almond made a motion to support the ‘Field of Dreams’ by funding the first two items on the list – masonry retaining wall for $7,500 and the concrete work sidewalk and slabs for $5,500, for a total of $13,00 in order to stabilize the project. The motion was seconded by Katie Loudin.

Samples, Almond and Loudin voted to support the $13,000 for the project, while Wilkerson voted against the support.

In other business, BOE members met in an executive session to discuss possible action regarding property owned by New Community Church. After that session, BOE Vice President Katie Loudin said members decided they need to gather more information about the property before taking further action.

Other items discussed and voted upon during Tuesday’s meeting included:

  • BOE members voted unanimously to accept the personnel items as recommended.
  • BOE members did not make a decision as to the possible action regarding the personnel attendance incentives. Samples asked Carver to verify how the state will reimburse/pay the incentive they are offering for teachers who do not miss more than four days and to look at the number of service personnel who received the bonus in the past and what the cost of that was. Loudin also asked for projections at different compensation levels for both professional and service personnel.
  • BOE members voted to allow John Epler from B-UHS to gather information about a possible trip after this school year to Panama with students.
  • BOE members received a report from Carver about the budget. He said that for Upshur County Schools to be removed from the financial watchlist put out by the State Department, the BOE needed to have a 3 percent fund balance; he said they had just a little over 2 percent but were moving in the right direction.
  • BOE members heard a report about Fred Eberle student enrollment, which is up by 74 students. The report said some of the available seats in classrooms were opened up to students in 10th grade and the younger students were doing very well.
  • Stankus read a proclamation from Gov. Jim Justice, recognizing Sept. 20, 2019 as West Virginia School Service Personnel Day and recognized all service personnel at the BOE meeting.

Finally, Hodgesville Elementary School Principal Janet Phillips gave a Faculty Senate Report on Hodgesville Elementary School students.

“I am not happy with our scores. Turnover of our instructors has been a big issue at our school,” Phillips said. “I have a very young staff as you saw this evening. I have a teacher-in-residence and a Wesleyan student who is working with a retired teacher. We have a lot going on, but we also have a lot of good things.”

Phillips said they are trying to address the test scores.

“We have PAX and believe that will help with our behavior issues,” she said. “Last year, our fourth- and fifth-grade students had a lot of trauma.”

“We are utilizing our academic coaches,” Phillips added. “We are doing a bi-weekly academic meeting to close the gap. We are making sure we are providing high-quality education.”

Phillips said they are using Eureka Math and seeing a lot of growth with that. She said the most important task at HES is relationship building.

“If we don’t have a relationship with our students, we are not going to get anything out of them,” Phillips said. “That is one thing we are really, really working on – building relationships with the students – getting them to love and to want to be here so that we can help them.”

The next regular Upshur County BOE meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 at 6 p.m. at French Creek Elementary School.