WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Board of Education is concerned about trips taken by staff for professional development and field trips taken by pupils.
At a work session held Tuesday, board President Jim Piccirillo said in recent months many staff members have asked the board to approve trips to educational conferences in various places and he's concerned about the cost, the time it takes teachers away from their classrooms and whether the same staff are participating in most of the trips.
Piccirillo said the trips have varied in length from one to five days, and 90 substitute teachers were required last month alone, though he conceded that included fill-ins for teachers who were sick.
Piccirillo said the trips have caused the board to exceed its budget for substitutes in recent years.
Treasurer James Hervey said the total cost for substitutes last year was $858,783, while $760,000 was budgeted. He noted the figure also includes costs for substitutes filling in for teachers who had claimed sick or personal days as well as those traveling for training.
Piccirillo said teachers have complained of not having enough supplies and materials, and the money could be used for that.
Board member Frank Ujcich agreed. "There are more and more teachers requesting these trips, and I don't think we can afford it," he said.
Kathy Kidder, superintendent, said she wants to ensure training is directly related to a teacher's subject area and not taken only to meet course hours required for renewal of teaching certificates.
Kidder said 18 hours of staff development are included in each school year. The training is offered at local schools, which are closed for students on those days, but they can and have been cut at times to make up for snow days, she said.
But Kidder added evening programs also have been offered to help staff meet continuing education requirements.
Piccirillo said the board supports staff learning more about their field, but he believes a smaller number of staff members could attend conferences and share information when they return. He noted staff at each school meets for an hour each Monday morning to discuss and share teaching strategies in what is known as professional learning communities. Introduced to boost test scores, the hour sessions require students to be bused to school an hour later on Mondays.
Marty Bartz, assistant superintendent, said one reason for the increase in training is the large number of new teachers who have entered the school system in recent years. He said of Brooke County Schools' 300 teachers, 126 have six years or less of experience.
Piccirillo said the school board once allocated a specific amount to each school for professional development, with each school's faculty senate charged with determining how it was spent.
"Really we're not the experts on what trips they should take or not take," he said.
The move was supported by Linda Arbogast, a retired Brooke County teacher and representative of the West Virginia Education Association, who said putting the matter in the schools' hands would show the board's faith in its employees.
A similar solution was suggested for field trips, with the board suggesting each school might be limited to one per fall and spring.
Piccirillo stressed the board doesn't oppose field trips but wants them to be of good quality and comparable among schools.
He said he believes the trips also should reflect the curriculum for that grade. For example, he believes it's more appropriate for eight-graders studying West Virginia history to visit Charleston than it would be for younger grades.
Piccirillo said because schools often fund the trips themselves, through fundraisers and the PTA's help, those serving areas of lesser income may not be able to offer the same type of field trips as those with more funds.
Board member Brian Ferguson said in cases where students themselves pay, those with parents who are poor or unemployed may miss out.
Arbogast said often the schools or teachers will step in to see that such children can participate.
Piccirillo said it's been suggested the board should allow the schools to address their own field trips.
But he said in recent months the board has been asked to contribute for more trips.
Piccirillo said he also wanted to clarify an issue regarding a request from the board to provide transportation for a special education student to participate in a field trip. He said the student was able to attend and the board wouldn't deny the student's right to participate.
"No special education student will be denied a trip - no matter what we have to do - to send a kid on a trip," he said.
The board had declined to provide funds for a handicap-accessible bus for the student, saying that expense should fall to the school.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)