The Times West Virginian

Local News

March 20, 2014

BOE candidates speak at public forum: PHOTOS

Library, MCPARC and transit levy also addressed

FAIRMONT — The Marion County Historical Society hosted the Meet Your Candidate Primary Public Forum Wednesday.

The event was held at Westchester Village and allowed candidates for Marion County Board of Education, U.S. Congress and County Commission to speak. Representatives from the Fairmont Marion County Transit Authority, Public Library, and Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission also spoke about the importance of the levy that supports them.

Richard Bowyer served as moderator, and panelists Rev. Larry Collins, Wade Linger and Dora Kay Grubb had the opportunity to ask speakers questions after each presentation.

The candidates had three minutes to speak about themselves and their platforms, and had two minutes to respond to any questions the panelists posed.

Erika Reed spoke on behalf of the public library and highlighted why the library is important to Marion County.

Last year, the library served 275,000 patrons and provided Internet access stations that were visited by 20,000 people.

“We’re leaders in technology,” she said. “We try to bring digital literacy, as well as learning literacy and print literacy to Marion County to fill all those needed roles that the gap in our socioeconomic standards create within our county.”

Reed explained that the library helps people look for jobs and do résumés, and displays local artwork and traveling exhibits.

The levy is important, she said, because it supplies 75 percent of the library’s funding.

“We would not have library service here in Marion County without the levy.”

The levy would help provide a 24/7 library in the White Hall area, which is a large vending machine that holds several hundred items available to customers at any time. They can also return books to the location.

The levy helps the Fairmont Marion County Transit Authority secure federal funding and keep fares stable, said George Levitsky.

“We pride ourselves in providing clean, safe and efficient service throughout Marion County,” he said.

Within the next four years, Levitsky said, 21 buses will need repaired or replaced, and they aren’t sure where the funding to accomplish that will come from.

“Last week, I traveled to (Washington) D.C. with the West Virginia Public Transit Association ... and what we found out was public transit buses carry 53 percent of passengers nationally, but we only get 10 percent of the funding,” he said.

Public transportation is important to the community, he said, because it links passengers to doctors, hospitals, schools, college, jobs and shopping, among other things.

Tony Michalski told the panel the levy will help improve the 11 parks run by Parks and Recreation, and will also allow them to grow.

They currently manage the rail trails (which will be paved soon due to recently obtained funding), a fishing park, camp grounds, a soccer complex and ballfields.

They plan to develop a new rail trail that will tun from Fairview to Mannington and are looking into developing an indoor recreation center for the county, he said.

MCPARC is important in the summer because it offers Marion County’s youth more than 100 jobs, said Michalski.

“A lot of these kids, it’s their first job, with us, as a lifeguard or at the concession stand or working with our maintenance crew,” he said.

After the levy was discussed, Board of Education candidates had a chance to speak.

Mary Jo Thomas, a former history teacher and current Marion County volunteer, said she wants to work cooperatively and be open to ideas, and will be fiscally responsible.

“My first priority are students,” she said. “Next, are curriculum. Next, the need for good and safe facilities, which provide an environment conducive to excellent in both teaching and learning.”

Thomas also was in favor of teacher evaluations, which she feels can help the school system move forward and address problems to benefit both teachers and students.

Frank Moore, who is facilities and activities director with Marion County Schools, has worked with the board of education for 34 years in many different positions.

He said he feels it’s his duty to give back to the board because it has done so much for him.

“I’ve witnessed the growth of Marion County. I’m proud of our accomplishments and want to see Marion County continue in providing its students with the best possible education and the best teachers and the best facilities in the state,” Moore said.

He is in favor of allowing individual counties to develop their own school calendars, and would like to see students and teachers still have enough of a summer to hold other jobs and attend camps.

When asked about the No Child Left Behind policy, he said, “I think the main goal is we need to educate our children.”

Tom Dragich feels that children benefit from arts programs in schools, as well as from the socialization public schooling provides.

He is an evaluator for the West Virginia Schools of Excellence Program, and he said, “I’ve seen the good and the bad, and Marion County has always stood out and shined very brightly. It’s because of the teachers, administrators and support staff that we have had.”

His number-one priority, he said, is to reduce the stress and pressure that’s placed on teachers and principals. The work should be fun and exciting, he said.

James Saunders has served on the Marion County Board of Education for 33 years, he said.

Why he is running for re-election is as simple as “A-B-C,” he told the panel.

He’s accountable to the citizens of Marion County, he said.

You can believe that he works hard, as he has in the last 33 years, he said.

You can call him any time. His phone number is listed, and he is available, he said.

He is against a system that grades schools because he feels is puts them against each other, he said.

He also weighed the pros and cons of merit-based pay for teachers.

“The pro of merit pay is you get paid for what you do,” Saunders said. “The cons of merit pay is there’s no true test, no true measuring tool ... I’d be afraid it would be a popularity contest more than it would be a fair pay.”

Sam Brunett, an art teacher at Morgantown High School, serves on many county, state and national committees involved with education, he said.

“I’ve spent my entire career as a teacher actively reaching to improve perfection and advocating for the students,” he said.

He has a child in Marion County’s public pre-K program, and he said he has worked closely with the county’s teachers in the past.

Brunett wants to ensure resources intended for the children are directed toward the children in classrooms by maintaining a level of transparency, and he wants to develop a teacher evaluation system that uses the data to drive professional development.

He is also in favor of extending teachers’ work day to ensure they have time to complete all expected tasks, as long as they are properly paid for their time, he said.

Email Chelsi Baker at or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.

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