By Marla Pisciotta
ROMNEY, W.Va. — West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin responded to issues at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind during an interview with the Times-News Wednesday morning.
Manchin confirmed that the state intends to keep the schools in Romney despite concerns of child care workers that Schools Superintendent Lynn Boyer was hired to move the schools.
“We are fortunate to have this quality of schools. It’s a wonderful school,” Manchin said. “She (Boyer) has made dramatic improvements in terms of raising the bar and looking at the facility.”
Manchin said the schools have not been properly maintained for many years.
“Now everything has to be done at once — repurposing the buildings for the best convenience and safety of the children,” Manchin said.
Manchin said prior to the board meeting in Hampshire County last fall, they looked at options to move the schools because of the financial outlay in some form or another.
“We looked at the best use of money, whether it would have been more financially feasible in another area of the state,” Manchin said. “We did our research and what we found was it was financially not even close to moving the schools.”
Manchin said Romney is the best location for the schools and that is in large part due to the commitment of the community.
“After the town forum, we felt the community sort of pledged to partner with the schools,” Manchin said.
She said the board was very pleased and thrilled with the attendance and the meeting overall.
“We felt that everyone shared genuine support and caring. It rather alarms me when we hear rumors that we still plan to close the schools,” Manchin said. “Whoever these people are with these misconceptions are feeding this frenzy.”
Manchin said the planned additional education for child care workers is necessary to give children who undergo 24/7 care the best quality of care possible.
But Sen. Donald Cookman disagrees. “Because of a recently implemented policy at WVSDB, the school is no longer a 24/7 school.”
Cookman said students go home every weekend, which means they are with the teachers roughly the same amount of time they are with their child care workers.
Manchin said that accomplishments have been made following changes in curriculum and the next step is to look at those who care for the children after school hours.
“Which means those care takers should have the highest quality of trained individuals in those positions,” Manchin said. “These people have to know how to deal with social behaviors, appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.”
Manchin said because someone has been around children for many years does not necessarily mean that person is highly qualified.
The state board has approved the transition of child care workers to residential care specialists to take effect in July 2015.
Child care workers are being asked to take English and math classes to earn an associate of arts degree.
“We will work with these workers for a three-year period. As soon as they sign the papers saying they want to improve their skills, they will receive an $8,000 a year salary increase,” Manchin said.
Cookman wonders if that statement is actually correct.
“Can this be true when the job description indicates that individuals who are deaf or those with superior ASL skill will be given preference during the hiring process?” Cookman asked. “Even if the child care workers agree to obtain the required AA degree ... they would still have to have a successful interview to get the job.
“My question is when would the decision to hire be made, when the applicant agrees to obtain the AA, when they are interviewed or after the AA degree is completed,” Cookman said.
Manchin said the schools are working with Eastern West Virgina Community & Technical College to assist and will be giving classes on the campus and online.
In the interim, the child care workers are asking for a guarantee to retain their jobs.
Anita Mitter, organizational development specialist with the West Virginia Education Association, said, “Having an associate degree doesn’t mean you can do the job.”
Mitter said she and a small group met with Boyer last week to discuss the status of the transition.
“Our sticking point is we feel the current child care workers should be given priority to be chosen for the jobs because of their experience, seniority and commitment to the kids,” Mitter said.
Mitter said the child care position is not a teaching job but a parenting job.
“I do feel that Dr. Boyer is going to try working with us to come up with some way that would be acceptable to everyone,” Mitter said.
There are 35 child care workers’ jobs at stake.
Manchin said, “What concerns me is some of the individuals complaining the loudest never talk about the benefit to the children. I would never encourage Lynn Boyer to guarantee those jobs.”
Cookman said his goal is that the child care workers who have dedicated their lives to and developed a bond with the students be treated fairly.
Manchin said the board and Boyer are not doing anything different than other schools.
“Most schools are held to a high standard if they have a good superintendent. To expect less would be to say we don’t want our West Virginia children to have the best education,” Manchin said.