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Two counties decline school to work funds

Marion, Upshur counties forgo applying for federal grant money

by Gail Marsh


Two county school boards in North Central West Virginia have turned down a chance for federal money that would have helped pay for the cost of implementing a state-mandated program.

Both Upshur County and Marion County school boards have opted to forgo applying for $125,000 grants that the federal government made available to counties to implement the school to work program.

This program, outlined in the state's Senate Bill 300, will require students to learn more about careers and get some on-the-job experience while still attending public school.

The federal funds must be used for staff training or to buy textbooks for the career classes. Administrators are leery that the government may dictate how they teach the classes and implement the program if they accept the money.

James "Rat" Saunders, president of the Marion County Board of Education, said the board was uncomfortable with applying for funds that could cause problems down the road.

"Teachers, parents and the community don't know enough about school to work and what will happen if we accept the money," he said.

Saunders said that 16 states have chosen to decline the federal funds so far and have opted to come up with their own versions of the program.

He said this is a good sign that there are problems with accepting the federal funds.

"We know we are mandated by the state to implement Senate Bill 300, but that piece of legislation could change. If we take money from the federal government, we may not be able to get out of what they want us to do," he said.

The Upshur County Board of Education chose to turn down the money this week despite a 13-9 vote for approval by the county school to work steering committee last month.

"The board simply feels at this point that they don't have to compromise and give too much control to the federal government," said Alan Sturm, Upshur assistant superintendent.

Helen Whitehair, curriculum director for Upshur schools, said the school system will have to continue to implement Senate Bill 300 and knows it will be a struggle without the federal money.

"It will be difficult, but when you have a community that is not backing the request for those funds, then it's not productive and it's not worth it," she said.

Officials of both counties agree that going ahead without the federal funds will be difficult.

Whitehair said the curriculum committee at the high school will be working on programs of study to reflect the school to work theme. She said the middle school is already working on exploration classes for its students.

"During their advisor-advisee times, teachers are going over information to help students determine their interests and aptitudes and see what jobs would best fit their interests," she said.