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Preston County Schools Regain Local Control

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Ashton Marra
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The state board of education declared a state of emergency in Preston County in 2009 and as part of their intervention, seized decision making authority from the county.

Everything from finances to the school calendar, hiring to curriculum, all were set at the state level. But that oversight will officially end August 1 after a unanimous vote from the board yesterday.

In the five areas of greatest concern- curriculum, personnel, facilities, finance and leadership- Office of Education Performance Audits Director Gus Penix said the county made great strides.

Preston County is currently working to whittle down its 12 facilities to 10. In the last three years, all of their buildings have seen improvements, six of them new additions and three new construction.

But its finances, perhaps, are where the county has made the most headway. County Superintendent Rick Hicks said they started the previous fiscal year more $1.5 million in debt. When numbers are finalized at the end of the month, Hicks expects the deficit could be cut to as little as $59,000.

“These are just preliminary numbers, but even if it goes up the significance of going over $1 million reduction in the deficit is just phenomenal,” he told board members during their monthly meeting.
 
“I’m constantly asked if our school system is better after five years of state board intervention and I find that an awkward question because obviously the answer is yes,” Preston County Board of Education President Kathy McNeill said.

“It’s been challenging with the intervention, but this board is up for the challenge.”

The West Virginia Board of Education is in control of four other county school systems and has threatened Logan County with intervention. McNeill says her advice to those schools, take the help. Make your county better.

“I think from day one from intervention of the state that our board took the attitude that we were going to work with the state,” she said after the vote.

“My advice is to take the information, take the superintendent that you’re given, work with the state, don’t be in an adversarial type role. Take it as an absolutely good intervention and keep a positive attitude.”
 

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Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Preston County Superintendent Rick Hicks speaking to members of the state Board of Education.

McNeill as well as fellow Preston County board member Anne Robb attributed a lot of the county’s success to Hicks, their state appointed superintendent.

Hicks took over that position in July 2013 following Larry Parsons. Parsons had also been appointed by the state, but retired.

The decision to return local control did come with some conditions. Preston County is to keep Hicks in his role as superintendent for the next two years as the state transitions out of the county. Both boards are working on a Memorandum of Understanding that will detail the change in power.
 


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