Wise County teacher walkout rumors denied

Stephen Igo • Oct 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

WISE — During a meeting of the Wise County School Board Monday evening, a spokeswoman for the Wise County Education Association strongly denied the teachers union had anything to do with a rumored walkout by teachers that day.

WCEA spokeswoman Ann Wade said there was no truth to rumors the organization was behind “a walkout or a sickout” by teachers that was to allegedly have taken place on Monday. Board members didn’t ask and the administration didn’t offer whether teacher absences may have been higher Monday than usual for any other school day.

“I can assure you that at no time did the (WCEA) executive board or president ever discuss a walkout or sickout for something,” Wade said, indicating the WCEA hadn’t a clue what “the something” was that would have prompted the rumors to get rolling last week in the first place.

Wade said her personal commitment to education, and that of the WCEA, is such that “I take it as a personal slap ... a smear” against education and the organization that rumors would finger the group for sponsoring a one-day protest walkout. She said teachers have a lot of paperwork to contend with “and everyone’s stressed out” but the WCEA did not sanction a walkout for any reason. She said the WCEA would never sanction a walkout.

Wade assured the board she would try to get to the bottom of the rumor mill.

Also on Monday, another lengthy debate involving better football field house and weight room facilities at Pound High School ended up in a 5-3 vote to have the administration provide a cost estimate to renovate the existing building.

Board Chairman Barry Nelson has pushed a proposal to set aside $35,000 in the school division’s capital projects budget for a new metal building to be erected near the existing building, but his proposal has become ensnared in the ongoing debate whether to renovate all six high schools or consolidate and build fewer but new schools.

A rough cost estimate of the PHS field house has been put at $108,000. Nelson’s $35,000 proposal would provide a new 70-foot by 30-foot metal building on a concrete pad. But community volunteers would have to come up with the rest of the funds needed to complete the interior, including plumbing and electrical fixtures.

Some board members balked over liability issues, getting stuck with a $108,000 price tag to finish the project if community funds and other promises fall through, why fixing the existing building isn’t a part of the equation because it apparently will still be used even with a new metal building, and that old bugaboo: costly renovations versus consolidation and building brand-new, fewer high schools for a total 2,100 county high school population.

Nelson and Appalachia’s Mark Hutchinson said the community has a stash of funds and some volunteers all lined up to finish up a de facto shell building with no interior plumbing or fixtures or electrical wiring or fixtures. They also said Dominion, a utility preparing to build a new power plant near St. Paul, and Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company, have promised donations but won’t say how much.

The only figure mentioned to date raised by the community for the project came up Monday when it was mentioned that a previous football coach raised $4,000, and Big Stone Gap’s Betty Cornett wanted to see a better commitment than that.

In response to her inquiry, Superintendent Greg Killough said such projects historically mean a community ponies up 50 percent of the cost and the county matches the other 50 percent. Cornett said the board has yet to see “any up-front money,” and a lot of promises fall way short of 50 percent in real cash.

Nelson told Cornett he would be happy to alter his proposal for the county to commit to 50 percent of the total cost, which would be more than the $35,000 in tax dollars currently in the debate. Nelson did not indicate if Pound boosters have $54,000 in cash and/or in-kind services to pitch as its half of the bargain.

Earlier in the debate Monty Salyer of St. Paul, who actually proffered Nelson’s proposal as a motion, described an electrical hazard involving water in the current building. Descriptions of the dreary conditions in the current building raised the issue of why those conditions would not be addressed immediately as a safety issue.

Phillip Bates of Wise made the substitute motion to get a cost estimate to fix the current building, and that passed 5-3 with Nelson, Hutchinson and Vice Chairman Kyle Fletcher — serving as chairman during the debate because the original proposal belongs to Nelson — voting against.

Nelson then attempted to bring his original motion to a vote because he said renovating the existing building is unrelated to his proposal.

Nelson argued that Bates did not include “instead of” Nelson’s proposal in the substitute motion, but Fletcher ruled the issues were related, the substitute motion and majority vote trumped the original motion, and that Nelson’s original motion could not be resurrected — at least not again on Monday.

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