By Jean A. Flanagan
The 35-seats in the Hardy County Board of Education room filled quickly.The hallway at the central office was packed and people stood in the parking lot.
The rumors had circulated that the agriculture education and FFA programs at Moorefield Middle and East Hardy Early Middle School were being eliminated and people were upset. “That is certainly not the case,” said Hardy County Schools Superintendent Dr. Matthew Dotson.
Personnel hearings for reduction in force (RIF) positions were held Wednesday, March 1. Roy Harper, Ag Education and FFA Advisor at Moorefield Middle School was told his position was changing. In addition, an itinerate teaching position at the East Hardy Complex was being eliminated.
The hearing was called to order by Hardy County Board of Education President Nancy Hahn. She outlined the procedure for the hearing.
“Each side will have 15 minutes to present their case,” she said. “This is a recommendation for transfer. No decision will be made tonight. The final decision will be made at the March 6 meeting of the Board of Education.”
[private] Dotson said Hardy County had been placed on a “watch list” by the West Virginia Board of Education in November, “because of a deficit or projected deficit.”
In January, the board asked the superintendent to look at the entire budget and make recommendations for budget adjustments.
Assistant Superintendent and Director of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Bryan Cooley, explained that according to West Virginia Policy 2510, Agricultural Education is to be offered as a CTE class in grades 6 through 8.
While Mr. Harper teaches Ag Education in grades 6 – 8 at Moorefield Middle School, the same is not true at East Hardy Early Middle School, Cooley said.
“An itinerant teacher teaches Agriculture Education two periods at East Hardy Early Middle School, to grades 7 and 8,” he said.
“We need to reconfigure the program so all students in grades 6 through 8 have access. We are recommending three classes at East Hardy Early Middle School in the morning and three classes at Moorefield Middle School in the afternoon. The reconfiguration allows Hardy County to be in compliance with Policy 2510.”
“If these changes are approved, the educational experience of students at Moorefield Middle School will be impacted,” Harper said. “I teach Landscape Design in the morning. Those students develop the corn maze, which the FFA opens to the public during the Harvest Festival.”
Harper said the FFA manages the annual fruit sale, which enables students to get hands-on business experience.
“Was it ever mentioned that FFA would be cut?” Dotson asked.
“No,” Harper replied. “FFA is taught in class, so if I’m only there half day, the program will be diminished.”
“FFA is a very important part of agriculture education,” Dotson said. “You are compensated for after school work.”
“You are considered a 240-day employee, correct?” Board member Margaret Shriver asked. “The 40 days additional are for the work you do over the summer?”
Harper acknowledged that was correct.
There was some discussion about a high tunnel, which Harper purchased with grant funding, although it had not been assembled. “I wanted to finish it in the summer of 2016, but got cancer, then a serious infection and under doctor’s orders, was not permitted to do any physical labor,” he said.
“That high tunnel is still laying on the ground,” Dotson said. “Could students finish the assembly?”
“Not middle school students,” Harper said.
MMS Principal Patrick McGregor said he is anticipating a very large 6th grade class in two years and Harper’s half-time status would impact class size.
“In addition, the leadership skills he instills in students is extremely valuable,” McGregor said. “The leadership the FFA brings was evident in our last OEPA audit. Student leadership is a big part of that audit and they rated us distinguished.”
Former member of the WV House of Delegates and current Hardy County Commission President Harold Michael presented letters from the County Commission and State Treasurer of West Virginia John Perdue.
Perdue’s letter erroneously states the Agriculture Education program at EHEMS would be eliminated and the Agriculture Education program at MMS reduced.
The letter from the Hardy County Commission expresses support for the existing Vo-Ag and FFA programs. “As such, we fear the proposed changes to the program will negatively affect our students and their opportunities for a successful future,” the letter states.
“We understand it’s a matter of priorities,” Michael said. “We’d ask that you find some other things to cut. Roy Harper’s FFA is known throughout the state. I can’t speak any stronger in support.”
Dr. Harry N. Boone, West Virginia University Professor and Chair of Agricultural and Extension Education said he was there to speak against the cuts.
“When students graduate from high school, they either continue their education or enter the workforce,” he said. “Basic knowledge of agricultural education provides entry-level skills and a solid work ethic. I strongly encourage you to look at these cuts and keep these programs.”
Dotson repeated his insistence that no “cuts” were being considered. “Actually, we’re expanding the program,” he said.
“The reason we’re here, the reason we’re looking at class offerings is to find the best utilization of staff to benefit all students of Hardy County,” Shriver said.
Don Bucher, teacher representative with the West Virginia Professional Educators, Inc., spoke for Harper.
“One-third of your students in grades 6 – 8 are at East Hardy and two-thirds are at Moorefield Middle School,” he said. “It’s not fair.
Instead of disrupting the program here, utilize the Ag teacher there. Look at the ratio. You can do that program without tearing this program apart. We ask that you look at alternative ways.
“There is tremendous support for this program. I’m told you have received letters and calls from some high level state officials. These programs keep kids in school.”
Dotson said he had, in fact, received phone calls. “When I explained the situation, they understand our proposals,” he said.
Dotson told the Examiner after the hearing, only the itinerant teaching position is being eliminated at EHEMS. “That teacher is not losing her job because she will continue to teach in other areas,” he said. [/private]