WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WOWK) – Wayne County Schools have been dealing with dwindling enrollment over the past few years as families have moved out of the rural county due to lack of jobs. Since 2015 the district in total has lost more than 700 students.
“We lost 270 students last year. It was the fourth-largest hit in the state as far as reduction in enrollment, and we have lost, if you look back over the past five years, about $4 million in revenue,” said Todd Alexander, Superintendent of Wayne County Schools.
On Thursday night at the cafeteria of Dunlow Elementary School, the Wayne County Board of Education was set to vote on a cost-savings move to address the issue of decreasing enrollment.
Alexander’s recommendation to the board at the meeting was to consolidate Genoa and Dunlow Elementary into a single school.
Both schools currently have less than 100 students (Dunlow 79 and Genoa 58), and both facilities have structural issues. Dunlow has a bad roof and electrical issues and Genoa needs a new sewage system.
“The estimate at this site (Dunlow) was $1.5 million. The estimate at Genoa was $1.9 million. I think the number is probably closer to $1.9 million for both,” said Alexander.
He also said during the board meeting, “The anticipated annual savings of a consolidated school was conservatively estimated at $438,793 coming from personnel and utility savings.”
Alexander said his preferred site for consolidation is Dunlow Elementary because it is “centralized” and is bigger with three additional rooms.
“We believe we could come up with the highest enrollment number here. This school is more centrally located within the districts,” said Alexander.
At the meeting on Thursday, some people were totally against the superintendent’s recommendation to relocate Genoa students to Dunlow. Some felt Genoa should be the preferred site because it’s in better condition than Dunlow, while others were concerned about the longer bus rides, larger classroom sizes that Genoa Elementary students would have to face.
One person in attendance said, “Moving kids out of their environment to somewhere new is not what’s best for the kids. . . I say keep Genoa and Dunlow both open”.
Consolidation would also mean that eight people would lose their jobs in the transition.
However, others, mostly from the Dunlow Elementary area, were in support of the plan, fearing both schools may close if nothing was done. Some Dunlow Elementary students even told audience members why they supported consolidation.
“If the kids from Genoa come to Dunlow it would put more kids in every classroom. It would give us more opportunity to meet new kids and make new friends,” said one Dunlow Elementary student.
But at the end of the day the matter didn’t even come to a vote as Wayne County Board of Education vice – president Missy Hall couldn’t find anyone to second her motion on consolidation.
Both schools, for the time being, will stay open to the delight of many families and employees at Genoa Elementary. Tammy Willamson, who works at Genoa Elementary, was in tears when she heard the announcement that the school board will not be moving forward on consolidation.
“Oh, I’m ecstatic. Best Christmas present ever,” said Williamson.
She also said that Wayne County Schools needs to take its time and look at all avenues instead of just saying, “let’s ship these kids to another school.”
Williamson said they should look at expanding boundary lines to help increase enrollment at the two schools.
“Bring kids that are closer to us three or four miles down the road to come to us instead of going twice the distance to another school,” said Williamson.
Alexander said consolidation is now out of the picture, and they will start looking at other alternatives to address the issues in the district, and he said one of the things at the top of the list renovating the roof at Dunlow Elementary.
“So as we move forward we are going to invest our resources in both schools. Do the best we can and try to maintain both schools,” said Alexander.