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School board approves redistricting plan, does not include South Hills

CHALRESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha school board members voted Thursday to approve a redistricting plan that would affect four Charleston elementary schools — but none of the schools in the South Hills area.

After a brief but heated discussion, the board elected not to shift the boundaries that determine attendance at Overbrook Elementary, with the caveat that officials reexamine crowding the school in early 2014. The board made that decision with a five-to-one vote.  Board member Robin Rector was in the minority — she wanted to go ahead with the redistricting.

"There are times we have to take an unpopular stance but a stance based on the data put before us," she said. "I think we've been presented with objective data that shows that smaller class sizes encourage learning."

The other board members seemed swayed by the recent outcry from the South Hills community — board members have been fielding criticism of the plan since it was presented in detail last month.

That criticism stands in stark contrast to the community's initial call for board action to ease crowding at Overbrook Elementary. Parents came to the board in September and pleaded for officials to address the problem, prompting a massive study of potential redistricting plans across the county.

But they ultimately rejected the redistricting plan the board proposed, saying the school would accommodate all of its students by shifting some classrooms within the building.

Board member Bill Raglin chided those parents for that abrupt reversal before casting his vote.

"I'm a little saddened that we had such an outcry initially over the need to redistrict and the vast amount of resources that we applied to present a solution," he said. "I'm just asking of the public to take into consideration that when we have positions presented to this board that they be thoroughly explored so that it's really the feeling of the community."

Board member Jim Crawford disapproved of the board's decision to make a distinction between redistricting in different parts of the county, saying it amounts to preferential treatment.

"I don't want to make a difference in areas of our school district, I want everybody to be treated equal," he said. "And if we do one we ought to do all three of them."

Crawford was eventually overridden by other board members, who insisted the hefty public conversation about the South Hills redistricting warranted consideration.

The redistricting plans that were approved will move some students from Mary C. Snow Westside to Grandview Elementary and some students from Flinn to Sissonville Elementary.

Mary C. Snow Westside and Grandview are both crowded, and the shifts are expected to more evenly distribute the student population across attendance zones. The school board has heard almost no complaints from those who will be affected by redistricting those schools.

Also at Thursday's meeting, the board voted to continue funding the Kanawha County Libraries at the current level.  

That funding — which amounts to 40 percent of the library system's annual budget — has been a contentious issue since last month, when the state Supreme Court handed down a ruling that said the 1957 law forcing the school board to fund the library system was unconstitutional.

School board officials have said publicly ever since that they would continue to provide that funding voluntarily until the fiscal year ends in June. Thursday's vote made that official.

More controversial is the debate over whether or at what level the school system will fund the library after June. On Thursday, school officials passed that decision down the line one more time. They plan to meet with library officials over the next 30 days to try to come up with a solution, and the board will take the issue up again in April.

The boardroom was filled with library supporters awaiting a decision, and several gave impassioned speeches on the virtues of a public library system.

One woman read a letter for her 18-year-old daughter, who is away at college, and carried her "library bag" filled with 20 books — the number she checked out from the library most weeks of her adolescence.

"Though my body may have been firmly planted in Charleston, West Virginia," she wrote. "My imagination most certainly was not . . . I experienced life through hundreds of characters."

  A 7-year-old named Vivian Schmidt said roughly the same thing, telling board members that the books and movies at the library are inspiring to her.

"Have you ever heard that old saying that books can take you places?" she asked. "Well it's true."  

Also Thursday the board approved a refined version of a new "good sportsmanship" policy. That policy has been in the works for months, and was finally granted unanimous approval.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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