The Randolph County Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to keep the Harman School's vocational agricultural program alive for the coming school year, albeit with a compromise.
A delegation from Harman, numbering more than 60, burst into applause when they heard the news that a vo-ag teaching position will remain at the school, although, as part of the compromise, the position will only be part-time.
Pam Pennington, who gathered more than 250 signatures in support of keeping the program, walked away from the meeting with mixed feelings.
"I would have liked it to have been full-time, but I'll take part-time with the chance to build the program," Pennington said.
The Randolph BOE was considering dropping the program due to budgetary constraints.
Board member Ed Tyre said, "I'm tickled to death. It's an important program."
"The board made a decision tonight to try and save the program, and I'll support that decision," said Superintendent Terry George. "We will do our best to find a teacher who is energetic, and who is interested in reviving the program." He went on to say, "We will try to have that person on board as quickly as possible."
The meeting began with Del. Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, addressing the board. She said that, as a delegate, she receives phone calls in favor of and against issues that arise.
"The only phone calls that I have received in this situation are phone calls wanting to see this program continue in Harman," Campbell said.
The state board office informed Campbell that if the Randolph board cut the Harman position, then Randolph County would be the only county in the state of West Virginia to eliminate the vocational agricultural program.
"Every county is seeing an increase in the number of students," said Campbell. "They're actually adding positions and not taking them away.
"I want to challenge you to do what Tucker County did," Campbell said. She said that county had a dying agricultural program with no completers for 12 years and only nine students. "They offered to have a half-time position, and gave that county one year to make that program work." The program went from the original nine to 60 students, she said.
"Now you can't tell me that Tucker County can do it and we can't," Campbell said.
"I care about the students of West Virginia and I care about the students of Randolph County," said Campbell. "I just don't want to see us do something that (causes) maybe five students from Harman to drop out of school because they don't have this program." While sharing these last remarks, Campbell had to fight off tears.
Also speaking was Andrew Yost, a cultural outreach representative for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. He said the department supports the Harman program and all agriculture activities in Randolph County. He noted that West Virginia University is graduating agricultural teachers who will be looking to work in schools.
Only Campbell and Yost were allowed to speak to the board during the meeting. Originally, before the meeting started, board president Lisa Wamsley and George informed the crowd they would not be able to sign up to make comments because the board was holding a special meeting Wednesday, not a regularly scheduled one.
"Each county is allowed to its own policy," said George. "Some counties don't even allow people to speak."
It's true that the Open Meetings Act does not require public comments during meetings, but the law simultaneously encourages government bodies to have a public comment period.
Wamsley said that Campbell and Yost were allowed to speak because they were present at the Aug. 5 regular board meeting but did not get a chance to speak then.
The last minute decision to add them to Wednesday's agenda may have been a stroke of good fortune for the Harman delegation. During her comments Campbell spoke about how Tucker County handled a similar problem, and the Randolph board's vote to save Harman's program was ultimately modeled after Tucker's actions.
George said that the part-time hire will mean Randolph County will be 5 1/2 instructors over the state formula. This means that funding for the Harman agricultural teacher will have to come from the school system's general fund.
During Wamsley's closing remarks she asked George to add a posting for the part-time job to next Monday's meeting agenda.
"I'd also like to encourage Ms. Campbell to go back to Charleston and fight for funding for this," Wamsley said.
Board member Bruce Haddix also addressed Campbell.
"We need that financial support," said Haddix. "You said you'd support us. So we're looking for it."