Letter to the Editor printed in the Spirit of Jefferson on June 23rd, 2021
This letter is to follow up on my testimony at the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting on June 14th, 2021.
While sharing two facts on the importance of family structure to the success of children, Board Chair Ms. Skinner interrupted, as noted below:
My comments: “Let’s not forget that intact family structure and parental support, not race, is the most important factor in student success. The Jefferson County Board of Education would be well advised to adopt policies that recognize this fact. Those youth who graduate from high school, get a full time job and don’t have children before marriage and before age 21 are ten times less likely to live in poverty [Ms. Skinner interjects: “Mr. Urban, please let’s just stick to the topic here and not wander off ”, I reply “That is related, I’m talking about student success. They‘re 10 times less likely to grow up in poverty. That’s an important thing for student success and well-being, emotionally”]. Children living with their mother and her boyfriend are six times more likely to be physically, emotionally, or educationally neglected [Ms. Skinner interjects “Mr. Urban you’ve really gone off topic and your time is actually up]. At this point my virtual meeting connection was disconnected while I was still speaking.
Two take-aways from the above give and take with Ms. Skinner.
The Board of Education should hear citizens’ comments and not censor them.
We need to turn the conversation toward which family structures promote student and youth well-being. Father Facts, 5th Edition gives the following data:
Using data drawn from the 1990 test results of 18,000 10th graders who took the Louisiana Graduation Exit Examination, it was found that the percentage of students from single-parent families in schools had a strong negative relation to standardized test scores, and the prevalence of students from single-parent families in schools was a better predictor of academic outcomes that the racial composition of schools.
We need to take a long-term, generational view. Regardless of current family structure, what would you, as a parent, recommend for your children? The overwhelming majority of parents will want their children to abstain from sex before marriage. And as just stated, this is directly linked to student well-being. Therefore, schools should adopt curricula and programs that help youth fulfill the success formula mentioned above; finish high school, get a full time job and don’t have children before marriage and before age 21.
Recently, without any public discussion or notification, and in the midst of the economic hardships of the Corona Virus, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted school officials an annual salary increase of $310,000. This increase is tied to percentage of total salary, and will continue to reap benefits for school administrative staff for years to come. This increase was also voted in at the last meeting before new school board member Donna Joy took her seat on July 1st, 2020.
Now, we the voters of Jefferson County are asked to renew this wasteful and expensive tax, which more than doubles the amount of school tax collected, while increasing overall property tax bills by a whopping 40%. On a rental property valued at $225,000 that means a monthly increase of property taxes of $103, or $1239 per year. That means renters will pay over $100 per month extra for rent that their landlord will pass along to them. Similarly, homeowners will also pay over $50 per month extra.
The Board of Education has apparently come to consider these funds as an entitlement. Voters have to hire a detective to figure out where the funds went. It took some three months for the Spirit of Jefferson newspaper to get the information needed to calculate for themselves how much salary increase each of 38 administrative employees got. The highest amount was $20,755 annual increase, with the average annual increase being $9207.
Only about two percent of the excess levy goes toward increasing teacher and service personnel salary. Due to lack of transparency, it is impossible to readily ascertain how much is spent on additional non-teacher positions, like librarians, and how much is paid for the bloated administrative staff, now at 38 positions to administer 1280 school personnel and 8900 students. In contrast, the much larger Kanawha County school system serves 25,373 students and has 47 administrators!
Another example is the lack of transparency into what the legal expenses of the Jefferson County School System are. No invoices detail how much is paid for legal services. In fiscal 2019, $997,678 were paid to EPIC, an inter-county organization that provides support services for schools. However, the invoices do not say what the expenditures were for. One of the services provided by EPIC is the services of attorney Laura Sutton, although that is not one of the stated services listed on their website.
Also, don’t forget the $140,000 the Board of Education foolishly spent (that we know of) trying to condemn the Rockwool property after it changed its mind about the Rockwool plant due to public outcry.
On a closing note, teachers in Jefferson County earn an average of $50, 327 and are contracted to work 200 days (40 weeks) per year. As I mentioned above, only some 2 percent of this pay comes from the excess levy mega tax. Much of the tax goes toward the bloated administration, excessive legal expenses and who knows what else. And due to a lack of transparency, we won’t know what else.
In 2015, less that 14 percent of registered voters voted in favor of the excess levy mega tax, saddling all county property owners with the huge mega tax. Be sure to vote on November 3rd, and vote “AGAINST THE LEVY” on the school excess levy mega tax. Also vote “NO (AGAINST THE BOND ISSUE) on the school bond issue, which will increase taxes even further. The Jefferson County School Board cannot be trusted for a transparent accounting of your tax dollars and the above examples show how your tax dollars are being spent wastefully.
Welcome to this addition of the Richard Urban Show where we present news and views from God’s point of view. Today, May 30, we have on Barbara Fuller. She’s running for the Board of Education here in Jefferson County. So please introduce yourself.
“Thank you so much for having me. My name is Barbara Fuller and I am a wife of a retired Air Force Tech Sergeant. We moved to Jefferson County in 2007 when my husband retired from over 22 years of active service. With me we brought four children, three that were in Jefferson County schools, one who had graduated early from high school. We chose Jefferson County, due to the vast history that it has to offer. I was a history major in college, and I grew up just loving history and anything that has to do with it,” Fuller said.
“I am running for the Board of Education because of my experience that I’ve had personally with the Jefferson County Board of Education. More in-depth. Basically, I have three children that were in, are in Jefferson County schools. One is gifted sports kid, one is the kid that fell through the cracks and has an IEP, so he has a couple of difficulties. And then I have my last, who is just, there’s no way to describe her. She doesn’t fit anywhere. She’s a little bit of everything. My experience with the school system is that not everybody’s treated fairly, not everybody is treated the same. I’ve had my son, who has an IEP. The school felt that, when he was in grade school, felt that it was appropriate to IEP the other two children. Without my knowledge, without my approval. Yeah, for reasons that I’m not even sure. One didn’t want to write sentences about flowers. He was five years old or six years old and all he cared about was super heroes, so he didn’t fit what they wanted him to do. So, he now has a speech problem because he can’t write about a flower.” Fuller continued.
“We switched schools. Fortunately, he was a student at North Jeff and they were having their issues. So we were allowed to switch them. Once he went over and at Shepherdstown Elementary he was able to bloom and they were like, “Why does he and IEP?” “I don’t know”. I have a huge want to make sure that parents know why their children are IEPed, the things that are available to them. Because it was more like baptism by fire, and it shouldn’t have to be. You shouldn’t have to cry yourself to sleep at night. Wondering if your child’s getting everything that’s available to them,” Fuller added.
Richard: Okay, so we’re talking about special education. What kind of specific changes would you advocate? And also, so you were saying they gave your kids an IEP, and the other side of the coin is if parents want, in your experience or knowledge, in Jefferson public schools that parents want their child, like evaluated, is it done timely? I guess, those are different angles of the same question.
“Well, for my oldest son, who had his IEP, he needed it. There’s no if, ands or buts, but he needed it. It was good for him. The others, I don’t know what their thinking was, but all I could think of was that they were looking for a little extra money for their school, because apparently you get more reserve, or more funds for being a Title 1 school if you have more children that need,” Fuller answered.
Richard: Wouldn’t they ask the parent? Did they say ‘What do you think?’, or they just kind of said we’re going to do this?
“Well, they actually asked me, and they sent a meeting request and I didn’t get it on time, and I didn’t sign it and return it. They had the meeting without me,” Fuller said.
“So you have to be able to advocate for your own but when you don’t have the time and the energy to advocate, you really do need somebody to step in. And that’s what I would love to see in the school system. I would love to see professionals, that what they do is they handle a wide range of IEPs, whether it be for behavioral or whether it be for learning or both, because that does happen, then they can read the IEPs, sit down with the parents and let them know everything that’s available to them. Because teachers don’t always have that time to spend with a parent explaining that. I remember some of the meetings that we would have would only be 10-15 minutes, maybe sometimes a little bit longer,” Fuller added.
“And a lot of times that the process is a lot longer and you have a little bit more thrown at you, you’re having a lot of things thrown at you at once and you don’t have time to really read and process and understand and when that happens, you can’t go back after the fact and say but I don’t understand this. They ask you right there and then do you understand and you’re usually you’re just in a state of, whatever, because you’re not understanding everything that’s put in front of you. So I would love to see lay people, come in – other parents, professionals – who can explain the process, explain things that are available to kids. I’ve gotten a couple of e-mails on my campaign page that the parents have asked and asked and asked for services and they’re overlooked. Your son doesn’t, your son or daughter, does not qualify. Well, why? Tell me why there could be a host of reasons it could be. They don’t have the right tools. I know that West Virginia does not acknowledge dyslexia and it’s a huge problem,” Fuller said.
“Why not acknowledged dyslexia? It’s a real life thing and kids look at things, backwards, don’t classify it as something else. That is the nut and bolts of why I wanted to run. The secondary, is in the past year and a half, we’ve seen our taxpayer funds, in the school system, being used to fund lawsuits to, well, to make Rockwell go away. Whether I feel Rockwell is good or bad, is not the reason why I’m running. The reason I’m running is because those funds should never have been used for anything other than educating our children, and they’re crumbling, our schools are crumbling,” Fuller added.
“We need someone who has – and I’ve worked with banks. I’ve worked and had my own leasing company, basically I would broker leases for equipment, so I can read financials, I can do all that fun stuff, I’m conservative, so I don’t like to spend money and if I do, I’m going to get the best deal I possibly can,” Fuller continued.
Richard: I guess it would, maybe in a video or on your site, your Facebook , about was superintendent getting a good value for what they’re doing what you’re doing and also the spending on the lawsuit like you said?
“It’s one of my pet peeves. When we were an active duty family, we were a family of six. Having to live on, what is it, 30-something thousand a year. If we have as humans have to live within our means our schools should live within our means and learn how to invest in the children’s future, whether it’s applying for grants, if we need to hire a grant writer, I think that’s money well spent. If you can get grant money, free money. We all like free money,” Fuller responded.
Yeah, that’s a good thing, Well, another issue something that’s dear to my heart. Our non-profit works to the issue of sexual health education, specifically abstinence centered, and educating youth. Would you support an approach to sexual health education that emphasizes as a standard for school-age children staying abstinent from sex before marriage? That’s the Title 5 standard that’s been around for a couple of decades. Do you think that’s a good idea or a bad idea?
“I’m a Roman Catholic, so that is basically ingrained into my being. Does it always happen? No, it doesn’t for various reasons of why, but when I explain it to my kids that everything that you could possibly dream for can come to an end, if the end result is an unplanned pregnancy, that’s something really, really that hits home to them. And that would be my goal is to explain to kids that you might want to be Joe track star, but if you’re going to have premarital sex, you could throw that all away,” Fuller said.
“I would not have a problem teaching abstinence because with anything there’s emotional baggage that comes along with it, and that’s what the kids don’t get and they’re not old enough to understand it, “Fuller added.
Richard: What should be the goal of schools? I think I saw some things referenced on some of your materials like some children might want to go to college, but others could be vocational and then there’s an issue, like we were just talking about, of the character education. So is a goal, more that they could have a good job, they’d be a good citizen, a various combination of these things?
“I see no reason why you can’t have a combination, you can have a job and be a good citizen, pay it back to your community. I would love to see vocational – not all kids go to college. My husband didn’t go to college, he went straight into the military. The military is a job, it is a job. It teaches you skills, which then, if you serve long enough you can start your new job after that. You cannot discount colleges, you cannot discount vocationals, you cannot discount military. They are all useful in our society,” Fuller said.
Richard: One thing you were mentioning in some of your testimony or materials online that you spent a lot of time in the school with your children. Anyway, on the issue, somewhat related issue of maybe, school community relations. Could there be some improvement made?, or I guess what I’m trying to say is, how is it, like if a parent wants to volunteer, like you mentioned, you volunteered a lot? Anyway, would you have any ideas for improving that or, how is the relationship with the school community? If I’m making sense.
”It makes perfect sense. I was kind of thrown into it. So my son, who is the jock, smart jock, he was diagnosed at five years old with Legg–Calvé–Perthes disease, which is a degenerative hip condition where your femoral head dies,” Fuller responded.
“But I needed a 504 plan for someone to make sure that he did not run and jump in school because it’s painful and he’s five. They were not able to do that. They said if you want to make sure your son does not run and jump, you’re going to have to be here. So that threw me in to being on the playground every day meeting the teachers asking the teachers what you need done,” Fuller added.
Richard” So I know you’re running against several other people for the Board of Education. How would you contrast or differentiate yourself? Why should the voters give you one of their three votes there?
“I apparently am the only one who’s not running because of Rockwell. Apparently everybody else from what I’ve been told, is running because I am not to get on because I’ve been very active in that. I don’t really care if Rockwell comes here, so I’m just bad because I’m not a green coalition-type of person, I do recycle. My furniture is recycled, I drive a hybrid, but I am not about to scream that there is climate control and that my water is going to be poisoned so I don’t fit their mold. Like I said, I’m not running because of Rockwell. I have no ulterior motives, other than to make sure that our teachers get paid fairly, our parents are able to understand special education programs and to get a budget working that we are not screaming, and wondering why are heating systems don’t work, because we can’t pay to get them maintained,” Fuller responded.
Richard: I think that pretty well covers a lot of things. I’d just like to ask if you have anything else on your heart you’d like to emphasize as the voters are, we’re, considering who to vote for on June 9th. Any final closing thoughts?
“I would love for people to give me the chance, I have the time. Anything that I do now, I volunteer. I don’t have a paid job, so I have the time and the energy to spend working hours and hours to make our kids have successful schooling and make the education the best that we can possibly have,” Fuller said.
Richard: One more thing. With the disruption of the whole COVID-19 situation, with schools being closed, and coming back to school, I noticed, which I thought was very strange too, the CDC said that children are suggested to wear a mask if they’re over 2. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, what are they talking about?’ do you have any opinion about that?
“It’s almost like my son at five years old, not running and jumping in school. I don’t think that they will be able to keep masks on the children. Do I think that we need to practice washing hands, and sanitizing or wiping down desks? Well, in my estimation, I remember doing that with the kids when they were in first grade, in kindergarten God, almost 12 years ago. So, I mean do we need maybe step it up a little bit? Yeah, maybe sure, if you go out to the bathroom, maybe make sure that the kids sanitize their hands before they come into the class in case they did not wash properly. Do I think that the option of either going to school or staying home and learning in a situation like this, I’m for school of choice. Also, if you want to homeschool your kid and I have no problems with that. Not all children learn the same, so if it’s better for them to stay home, let’s make it so that they can do it from home. Let’s give them everything that they need.
Richard: Alright, well, thank you again for coming on today, and we’ll get this up on video. Please do vote. We will be electing our school board and also three Supreme Court justices. They’ll be the final election and of course, other positions as well, all the primaries and magistrates. So, be sure to vote. Thank you again for coming on.
Good morning. Welcome to this edition of the Richard Urban show were we present news and views from God’s point of view. I’m very happy to have Donna Joy on the show today. She’s running for board of education here in Jefferson County. So please introduce yourself.
“I am Donna Joy and I’m running for the Board of Ed in Jefferson County.”
“I’ll just share with you why I feel like I’m the most qualified. I taught Special Ed for 15 years. I have a master’s degree in Special Ed. I feel that our current school board could use, we need to help with the Special Ed following Special Ed federal/state guidelines. So I could be a big help there.”
“I have a PhD in Educational measurement Statistics, Research and Evaluation. And that is necessary on the board to follow sound research using logic. Making research-based decisions, interpreting data, interpreting graphs. When I’ve seen some of the Board meetings I’ve been to, and the superintendent can explain some of the things to the Board, but the Board seems to be dependent on the superintendent’s explanation, and so the Board needs to increase in that area. I don’t know of a better way to say that. I have taught Math for 30 years, Math and Special Ed, and at the high school, college level, and I also worked as a book keeper when I was going through college. So I can look at budgets, and financial reports quickly, and easily, analyze, look for errors, find gaps or ways to save money. I am certified in all main subjects, including Special Ed, I supervise student teachers and principals dissertations, so I know the latest research on administration and supervision and also the needs of new teachers.”
Richard: As a Board of Education member what do you think your most crucial role is? What would you say the most important role of the Board of Education is?
“Right now, I feel like our Board needs a change. We need some new ideas and new skill sets on the Board. So that’s the way I see for myself. So I think I could bring that. I’m not part of any, and I’m not part of the good old boy club and I’m not part of any groups. I’m an independent, I do what’s best for the kids. My motivation is education improving the school system as a citizen, I feel that it’s my moral and ethical responsibility, given all my extensive background in education, to see what I could do to help. To apply myself in that way.”
Richard: You mentioned, you had a background in Special Education. That it’s something you’ve been teaching that’s on your information on your website. What are the most critical areas is in the schools right now, the three most critical areas in Jefferson County? I know you mentioned Special Ed. Is that one of them?
“We have a serious problem in Special Ed. We stay out of compliance, so the school system gets sued, often. So we lose money, but we’re not addressing the needs of the kids that really need help. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but education, and really requiring that we have a complete overhaul of the Special Ed program in Jefferson County Schools. I believe that’s needed.”
Richard: I know in some jurisdictions parents have sued or filed complaints legally against the school system for inadequate education. And then they will ask for placement out of the system privately. And the school system has to pay for it. Is that something that’s happening around here, or that’s not an issue?
“That happens too. We have more basic problems, so I don’t want to sound too negative, but the truth is that this current administration and school board seems to want to minimize the number of students receiving services because they feel that it’s a financial burden. And I’m saying that because I was in one of the court hearings, and heard one of the Board Members explain that it was a burden to the school system. So what some school systems will do is they’ll try to minimize the number, that way they don’t have to supply it with Special Ed teachers or other services. So that’s illegal and we need to stop that. Right now if a parent calls and says ‘my child has a disability, I want to get my child tested’. The question will be, is your child failing? No, no, he’s not failing. Well, honey, we can’t help them if he’s not failing, we don’t have Special Ed services. We don’t give them to kids unless they’re failing. That’s illegal. That’s not the basis for an IEP or extra help.”
“So another problem is the maintenance. Every school that I have been in the ceiling, the roof leaks. There’s the heating and air conditioning problem. And then we have this whole Shepherdstown education, complex that has to be built. The lands been sitting there for a few years now. So just to maintain what we have and to get it to where it’s safe; the buildings, and there’s a track at Jefferson High School. The track field needs to be fixed so that’s another basic problem.”
“The third basic problem is the break in trust between the public and the School Board and administration, came about because there wasn’t full disclosure, and there hasn’t been, about a lot of things. But it blew up. And so, the county’s been divided. So that needs to be mended. So we need to stress transparency, accessibility, and accountability.”
Richard: one of my neighbors mentioned that he didn’t think the school board should be spending X many dollars, on the Rockwool thing. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about, or are you talking about other things?
“I was talking about, even before that. But that’s one of the issues. So the first problem was, they didn’t ask the public. How do you feel about this PILOT [payment in lieu of taxes]? Should we go along with it? So a lot of people lost trust because of that. Because they found out it was a secret deal. Well, then there was another group that lost trust, because then they took what they claimed we don’t have money for, Special Ed to begin with, and they took that and you used it for lawyers to fight. It was a dead end fight because they had property already.”
“The argument the school system used was illegal. And that’s what I’m saying, they don’t know basic laws about Special Ed. We have worked for over 50 years in this country to get Special Ed children to be included in the regular school system, because they used to take all the special need kids and either throw them in the basement. And they would eat lunch at the end of the day, and they would end up cleaning the cafeteria by themselves. They would isolate. And these are disabilities such as a child’s gifted, but they have a language disability.”
Richard: Let me ask a question that’s close to my heart. I work in the field of sexual health education. Specifically abstinence-centered. So do you think that kind of area, sexual health education, should the expected standard for school aged children be not to have sex before marriage? That was two decades ago, that was stated in the so called Title 5 funding, that’s the expected standard for school aged children, wait to have sex until you’re married. Is that a good idea to have that kind of standard? What do you think?
“Absolutely, that would be my request for a standard. Whether the outside world has influence, but the goal of school should be to focus on education and children’s learning. You don’t want them to be encouraged to do other sorts of outside activities that are gonna distract them from the goal of learning. so that’s part of it, but for health reasons, they’re not ready to be parents, at that young of an age, they’re not ready for the responsibilities and all the changes that happen when you’re involved in a romantic relationship. So that’s what I teach my children. Doesn’t mean it always happens, but in the world and there’s a lot of influences.”
Richard: Absolutely, but at least setting a standard. You mentioned, I noticed you’ve been working on getting a financial literacy requirement. Do you want to say anything about that?
“If we could give them one skill that would help them in their lives. I think it’s personal finance and people think that, Oh, it’s just balancing a check book. It’s mortgages, interest, estate planning, school loans, Car loans, bonds, stocks, IRA’S, taxes. There’s so much involved and most adults don’t know about those things. If we could teach kids these things, I think it would help them to save money. Learning about compound interest. Investing now, a little bit while they’re in high school, so that in 30 years they might have something. They don’t have to be dependent on the system.”
Richard: It can be a little confusing. So you can vote for three people for the Board of Education. And I know there’s some limit if there were too many people from one district, but basically, barring that, the top three people will win, right? And also tell us how would you differentiate yourself from your opponents? What should people know why they should vote for you versus other people?
“Okay, well, so yeah, you can vote for up to three people. You can vote for one, two, or three from any district. It doesn’t matter if you live in their district or they live in your district, but no more than two people can be on the Board from any one district.”
Richard: Got it, that’s clear. As people look to vote on June 9, and as we’re saying, the School Board will be elected on June 9th. That is the election, final election. Why should people vote for you, differentiating you from the other candidates?
“Well, I’m the most qualified. I am a career educator, I’ve been teaching for 33 years. I don’t have any personal ties to; several board members, they have a lot of old family and connections with businesses. I’m wanting to be on the board to help and, out of, like I said, my ethical moral responsibility to help. I have the skills that could help. I have more skills that the School Board needs than other candidates, which is unfortunate because we don’t have, It looks like we have 11 people, but we don’t really have 11 people, three of them aren’t even showing up for forums.”
“So that’s one thing I’m the most qualified. I am passionate and I didn’t just move here two weeks ago, a year ago. And think it’s a cool thing for one issue. I have several issues and they’re all related to education in helping the children and I have a track record of helping the school system. I’ve been teaching here for eight years and the whole time I’ve been here, I have put my job and my reputation on the line, dealing with issues such as the school system has a policy or had it until, hopefully they took it down after I spent a whole year dealing with the state employee grievance board to get that fixed, but they had a policy that allowed them to hire long-term subs over certified teachers.”
Richard: thank you very much for taking the time to come on today. We’ll put this up on video and podcast and hopefully many voters will watch it so they can make an informed choice. Remember, you can vote for three people for Board of Education on June 9th.