Short speech, big implications for schools

November 20, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Five minutes.

It's about the amount of time required to stop by the convenience store or go through the bank drive-through window.

And in West Virginia, it's the time allotted to school officials to explain multi-million dollar school construction funding requests.

Every year at this time, county school officials from across the state make the drive to Charleston, W.Va., to ask the state School Building Authority for money for their school construction projects.

But this is no time for drawn-out oratory.

School officials are given five minutes to make their requests, followed by five minutes to allow School Building Authority members to ask questions.


The limited amount of time forces school officials to come up with creative ways of getting the attention of the state School Building Authority members.

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said he and Berkeley County Board of Education President Bill Queen rehearse what they will tell the authority.

Jefferson County Schools officials, who addressed the School Building Authority just before Berkeley County schools officials Tuesday, relied on the power of video.

Jefferson school officials showed School Building Authority members a video of a crowded hallway during a class change at Jefferson High School.

The video then showed subdivisions that are cropping up across the Jefferson County landscape.

"A picture is worth a thousand words, right?" said Jefferson County Board of Education President Lori Stilley, part of a local group of school officials who made the drive to Charleston.

"It's difficult. It's very difficult. Would we like more time? Yes. But that's what we're dealing with," Stilley said.

Berkeley County Schools officials are asking the School Building Authority for $5.5 million to help build a new intermediate school near Gerrardstown, W.Va. Jefferson County Schools officials are asking for $19 million to help build a second high school and renovate Jefferson High School.

When a school district begins its presentation before the School Building Authority, a timer is started to make sure they only get the allotted amount of time, Arvon said.

Arvon said he and Queen work like a "tag team" as they deliver the facts during their five minutes.

"It becomes an art," Arvon said.

School officials gave varying reasons why only five minutes is allowed.

Arvon said he believes one reason is because the authority needs to sift through requests from 44 groups.

School districts send the School Building Authority packages detailing their funding requests, but Nichols said he believes the meetings are held so the authority can determine how serious school officials are about their requests.

The School Building Authority has about $200 million to distribute for school projects, and local school officials said they expect the authority to announce its funding decisions around Dec. 15.

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