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WV Department of Education Officer of Accountability Jeff Kelley

West Virginia Department of Education to give investigation update at Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting

BUCKHANNON — Residents interested in the West Virginia Department of Education’s ongoing Special Circumstance Review and state takeover of Upshur County Schools should plan to attend the Tuesday, Dec. 19 meeting of Upshur County Board of Education.

Jeff Kelley, the state Officer of Educational Accountability, is scheduled to attend the meeting and offer an update on the state investigation, according to the recent board agenda. The Upshur County Board of Education will also consider agreements with the WVWC CDC, Upshur Human Resources and Mountain CAP related to students with special needs, as well as an agreement with Wesleyan for athletic trainers at B-UHS.

The meeting will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Kelley offered a report to the state board of education last week about the ongoing review in Upshur County and indicated that the focus was shifting from a financial investigation to strategizing ways to move forward by improving academic achievement in the county.

“When the conversation starts to move from operations to academic achievement, that means we’re getting traction,” he said. “I expect the conversation to be much more about kids and teaching and learning and less about all this other stuff.”

Kelley said the board has already repaid the more than $800,000 in improper payments identified thus far by the investigation.

“They have replaced and returned the money that’s been requested,” he told the state board. “Upshur County Schools has begun developing the process for reviewing and updating county policy, bringing it all up to speed. They worked in conjunction with the offices here to assess the certification and licensure of staff. They’ve also worked with the Office of Finance to get the technical systems they need to work through these noncompliance items.”

Bus staffing shortages have been an issue throughout the fall, and Kelley said the state is looking at the local routes to see if those can be more efficient. He also hinted that staffing changes throughout the county could be forthcoming.

“Unfortunately, it’s about to be staffing season, so [we’ll] look at efficiency in the areas of overages and how school staff are used, and are they being used in the most proficient manner?” he said.

Another major initiative is the renewal of the Upshur County school excess levy. That item will appear on the Primary Election Ballot on May 14, 2024, designated as Election Day in the Mountain State, according to the W.Va. Secretary of State’s Office election calendar.

Upshur County Superintendent Christy Miller said passing the levy is a priority after Upshur County residents voted against the renewal of the five-year excess levy by a margin of just 166 votes in the General Election in November 2022, according to a previous article.  

“Currently, the levy provides free materials for all students in Upshur County,” Miller said at a previous Create Buckhannon meeting. “That means books, paper, pencils — anything that is necessary for our students. That’s a big thing. Free admissions for student to events would go away. Extracurricular or extra duty contracts that we offer for our folks to cover the different clubs and organizations, coaching stipends, those kinds of things — they would see a huge hit. A lot of those activities would have to cease, or we’d have to combine things to be able to make those work.”

Miller is working with the WVDE and the law firm Bowles Rice on the levy call that will appear on the ballot, which outlines how the school system will spend the money.

“The focus of this levy will be on students and their needs,” Miller told the state board last week. “In the past, I believe that some of the things that have been on the excess levy, which failed back in November 2022, perhaps did not have the necessary focus on students.”

The Upshur County Board of Education will meet on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

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