BUCKHANNON – Early in 2019, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine told the West Virginia State Board of Education that West Virginia high school graduation rates for 2018 were the highest they had been in years.

And in a continuation of that trend locally, at the last Upshur County BOE meeting May 28, Director of Student Services Jodie Akers told Upshur BOE members that the county’s graduation rate for 2019 was also the best it had been in years – 99 percent.

“We have some very exciting news,” Akers said. “Upshur County Schools in 2006 had about 76 students who dropped out of school. We spiked at 87 dropouts in 2008-2009. We hit the lowest rate we have ever had since I have been here – we only had 12 dropouts this year. Last year, we had 18.”

Upshur County Schools Director of Student Services Jodie Akers shares good news about the graduation rate for 2019. She said programs that have been implemented are working and helping cut down on the number of students who drop out of school.

Akers said while this is exciting news, their ultimate goal is to take that number down to zero.

“With the programs we have in place, we are starting to see those benefits,” Akers said. “The Options Pathway is one program that is really helping. We had 42 students work on their TASC Diploma and get their diplomas – 14 were full-time students in the program – half the day in the program and half the day at Fred Eberle Technical Center and we had 17 that came in to take one course.”

“We are really, really excited about our numbers and the great things we do,” Akers added.

Also, during Tuesday’s meeting BOE members also voted unanimously to purchase two new school buses, which will be purchased after June 30, 2019 for a cost of $212,276.00.

The buses will be purchased from Matheny Motors in Parkersburg, West Virginia and they are 2020 77-passender Thomas C2 buses. Upshur County School Business Manager George Carver told BOE members they had received enough money from the State to purchase three new buses.

“We received enough money to purchase three and new buses, but with the Legislature going back into session, we thought it prudent to hold back in case they cut school bus funding,” Carver said. “They have cut that funding in the last several years. I don’t anticipate that will happen, but we are going to hold back and order the third bus after we see what they do.”

BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples asked Upshur County Schools Transportation Director Randy Hardman how the school bus replacement schedule was going. Hardman told Samples the schedule used to be replacing buses every 12 years but said Upshur County Schools, in actuality, is replacing buses every 16 to 18 years.

“When we were on a 12-year replacement schedule, we could use the buses as a spare bus for three years before we would release them,” Hardman said. “Now, we are running them for 15 or 16 years on the bus run and keeping them for two years until we can’t afford to keep them any longer and letting them go.”

During the executive session regarding personnel recommendations, Carver explained where the funding for new school buses comes from.

“The funding to purchase new school buses is part of the state aid formula,” Carver said. “It is a separate step of the formula. We pull it out and keep it segregated from other money and we spend it just for buses – but it is rolled into the state aid formula.”

Tuesday’s BOE meeting offered a public hearing for residents to offer their opinions and questions about the proposed 2019-2020 Upshur County Schools budget, but no one signed up to speak.

George Carver, Business Manager for Upshur County Schools, presents the 2019-2020 budget, which was approved unanimously by Upshur BOE members. The budget is set for $36,695,841.

BOE members voted unanimously to approve the 2019-2020 Budget which is set at $36,695,841.00.

“The budget that we looked at during the April meeting is essentially what you have tonight with a few changes,” Carver said. “I put the superintendent’s and assistant superintendent’s contacts that were approved after that meeting into the budget, and we are still anticipating the possibility of a pay increase when the Legislature gets together next month, so that is in there in accordance with the Office of School Finance.”

Carver discussed the request to look for additional monies that could be used in the budget to help with funding for the Upshur County Public Library.

“We left [the 2019-2020 funding] at last year’s level, and we are going to continue talking with the library and see if we can’t find some other ways to increase their revenue,” Carver said.

The quote for Workers Compensation Insurance for the 2019-2020 School Year was also approved unanimously.

“We solicited three companies,” Carver said. “One company declined to bid which was Westfield. Westfield provides our property insurance and had our Workers Compensation Insurance for several years before we went with Brickstreet. The low bid was $102,976 from Brickstreet Insurance, which is a $41,000 decrease from last year’s premium. The other bid was from Erie Insurance for $124,867. So Brickstreet is the low bid.”

Carver said Workers Compensation Insurance in 2010 was $125,000 with Brickstreet when the state started bidding it out. In 2014, Upshur County Schools paid $305,000 for coverage, and Carver said the premiums have been declining ever since.

The next regular meeting of the Upshur County BOE is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11 at the BOE Office located at 102 Smithfield St.