Extra Credit

Library to collect yard signs after election

The Kanawha County Public Library announced today that each local branch will collect and recycle campaign yard signs used to promote the library’s funding levy.

Starting Wednesday, “Loving My Library” signs can be dropped off in designated areas at each Kanawha County branch where they will be stored for reuse or be recycled.

Library supporters have distributed thousands of yard signs and brochures around the county to raise awareness for the levy, which will return the system to full funding status should it pass.

Going into today’s election, library officials are “cautiously optimistic” about the levy passing and thankful for the support of patrons through the years.

“We greatly appreciate all of the people in Kanawha County who have supported the library levy by putting signs in their yards and neighborhoods,” said Alan Engelbert, library director.

If the levy passes, annual property taxes in Kanawha County will increase by about $16 dollars for residents with homes and cars with assessed values of $100,000 and $15,000, respectively. Should voters turn down the levy, the library will face a budget shortfall of about $3 million and likely will close several branches.

The levy is on the back of the ballot with a detailed description of what it is funding.

Polls are open until 7:30 p.m.

WalletHub: W.Va. 3rd worst state for teachers

Once again, a new “study” has come out showing just how terrible it is to live in West Virginia.

After conducting an “in-depth” analysis of data from the Census and Labor bureaus as well as teacher unions and other research groups, WalletHub has concluded that West Virginia is the third worst state for teachers. The study also found that West Virginia is surrounded by a land of opportunity as neighboring states were ranked favorably. Pennsylvania came in second, Virginia came in fifth and Maryland made the top-20. Ohio, which has the second highest teacher salaries when adjusted for cost of living, came in eighth.

The personal finance social network looked at 18 metrics in each state and the District of Columbia ranging from median starting salaries, unemployment rates and teacher job openings per capita. West Virginia came in the bottom half in most categories, placing 34th in average starting salaries, 42nd in median annual salaries, 42nd in 10-year change in teacher salaries, 45th in teacher wage disparity, 43rd in average number of hours worked by teachers and 33rd in unemployment rate.

It’s no secret that West Virginia teachers are paid considerably less than those in neighboring states — the nearly $4,000 disparity is a major talking point between public educators and legislators — but rankings like WalletHub’s needlessly fuels rhetoric that is high on money and low on students.

West Virginians constantly are told they’re poor, dumb and fat among many other things that serve to deflate pride in the mountains they call home. West Virginia is by no means a perfect place, but these “analyses” and “studies,” conducted by outsiders who may or may not have ever stepped foot on Appalachian soil, do a poor job of representing what it’s really like to live here.

The bad of West Virginia is certainly bad, but there is so much good that is swept under the rug because it’s not sensational like “West Virginia is the worst at (fill in the blank).”

West Virginia teachers with 10 years of experience are paid nearly $39,000. While that number is low compared to surrounding states, it’s high when stacked against the average in West Virginia. Every one of those dollars also goes further than in other states. According to the Tax Foundation, that $39,000 spends like $44,000 in West Virginia where the dollar’s worth is stretched to $1.13.

Per capita income in West Virgina is $22,482. So, teachers in West Virginia are doing pretty good. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to pay them an uncompetitive wage though. In fact, doing so leads to many bright educators leaving the state for better opportunities. New state Superintendent Michael Martirano acknowledges this and will seek more competitive wages for teachers.

So, being a teacher in West Virginia isn’t as bad as WalletHub makes it out to be. Certainly, teachers could and probably should be paid more, but until the full picture is taken into view, studies like WalletHub’s will continue to promulgate negativity, which often turns to entitlement as the offended seek change.

The last thing West Virginia needs is teachers more concerned with their paycheck than the success of their students.

Charleston Daily Mail editors are meeting with the Vote Yes for Libraries Committee, a group campaigning for the passage of Kanawha County’s library levy in November.

Library levy campaign underway

The Loving My Library campaign will hand out 1,000 yard signs and 10,000 brochures before the levy vote in November.
The Loving My Library campaign will hand out 1,000 yard signs and 10,000 brochures before the levy vote in November.

Kanawha County Library supporters quietly started a campaign last week they hope will encourage voters to approve a levy that will help fund the library system.

The vote isn’t until November 4, but supporters are confident their early start will help secure a victory and return the library to full funding.

This weekend, yard signs were placed around the county. At first sight, they may not make much sense, but they redirect to the “Loving My Library” website, which has plenty of information about the levy and its impact on voters.

Loving My Library was started by the Vote Yes for Libraries Committee and has been labeled a grassroots movement by supporters. It focuses on people sharing their stories about the library through word-of-mouth, video or social media. It’s a stark contrast to campaigning efforts for last year’s failed library levy, which saw school board member Pete Thaw actively campaigning against it even though the levy would have generated additional support for schools. The levy was overwhelmingly defeated in a special election.

This time, the library owns the message. The levy, while supported by the Kanawaha County Board of Education, will only benefit the library. George Manahan, the Loving My Library campaign manager, is confident it will be successful and thinks the group’s message will connect with voters whether they use library resources or not.

It may prove difficult to convince voters to approve a new tax, but the levy is actually quite modest. Should the levy pass, annual property taxes will increase about $16 for someone who owns a home and vehicle with assessed values of $100,000 and $15,000, respectively. In total, the levy will generate $3 million in annual support and is set to bring in about $18 million over the length of the tax.

If it doesn’t pass, branches could be closed, staff could be laid off and library hours could be cut.

The campaign is giving out free resources and is accepting donations. Visit www.lovingmylibrary.com for more information about the campaign, the levy and how to become involved.

Respiratory virus infecting kids across country

Whether it be seasonal allergies or the flu, the start of school is accompanied by an inevitable spate of colds easily spread in communal areas.

Any sickness should be taken seriously because it can escalate at any time and knock someone out for days, or worse, land them in the hospital. That’s why reports of a respiratory illness sending hundreds of children to the emergency room and some to intensive care units are concerning, especially when alleged cases are showing up as far east as Ohio and Kentucky.

To date, the virus — only known as enterovirus D68 — has affected more than 300 Missourians. Ten other mid-west states are investigating cases and have sought help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the type of virus is common — intense summer colds are usually caused by enteroviruses, which are related to the rhinovirus that causes the common cold — health officials are alarmed by the number of hospitalizations. One CDC official said it could be “just the tip of the iceberg.”

First identified in the 1960s, enterovirus D68 has had fewer than 100 reported cases in the past 50 years. Health officials saw a resurgence of the virus last year and have yet to isolate the recent flare-up’s cause.

Like colds, the virus spreads through close contact. It usually isn’t deadly, but it can cause wheezing and shortness of breath, which could be dangerous for children with asthma or other respiratory ailments.

Contracting the virus and preventing its spread is simple though. The CDC says basic sanitary practices should be used, like washing hands, avoiding sick people and covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. Those with asthma should make sure their inhaler is accessible.

It remains to be seen whether the cases in Ohio and Kentucky are indeed caused by enterovirus D68 or whether it could spread into West Virginia.

There is no vaccine. Treatment, as long as the infection doesn’t escalate, is the same for a common cold.

Many Americans do not have access to nutritious food.
A new report has found that 14 percent of Americans live in food insecure households that do not have access to nutritious food.

More than 14 percent of American families are food insecure, a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found.

According to the USDA, a family that is food insecure has limited or uncertain availability of food that can be acquired in socially acceptable ways while a family that is secure has access to enough food for all its members at all times.

Hearing that statistic may come as a shock to the 85 percent of Americans who never worry about putting food on the table. Even more disheartening is the fact that about 24 percent of West Virginia children under the age of 18 live in households that have faced food insecurity sometime in the past year.

While this is certainly an issue that needs addressing, it doesn’t necessarily mean people are going hungry. In fact, the state and national obesity rates are the highest they’ve ever been.

Despite there being 17.5 million food insecure families in America, less than 5 percent of adults say they went hungry last year. The USDA report says that number is even lower for children, at 1.3 percent.

So, if most of the population says it isn’t going hungry, what does food insecurity really mean?

The USDA says most instances of food insecurity involves food of reduced quality and variety rather than insufficient quantity. Basically, this means that people in food insecure households usually have enough to eat, but it lacks variety, quality and nutrition.

While not as dire a situation, we must consider the affect this has on public health and future generations.

Recent surveys have found that children in households with an annual income of less than $25,000 consume significantly more calories than children in households with incomes above $75,000. This supports the findings that children in poor households are more likely to be obese.

This is why the push to provide healthier school lunches is important despite some students outright refusal to eat them — a study of a Los Angeles school district found that 10.2 percent of fruit and 28.7 percent of vegetables were left over and that many students didn’t even take them from the lunch line.

People can’t be forced to eat healthy, especially when they cannot afford to do so. That is why school nutrition programs are so important. Without them, many children are left to eat processed foods high in fat, sugar and sodium.

As for those students who refuse to eat the healthier options, efforts to educate them about the importance of a balanced diet need to be improved.

 

Drug rehab center causes community debate

Community members are organizing efforts to oppose the construction of a drug rehabilitation center near Capital High School with claims that county agencies have agreed to give money to the project without voter input.

The construction project gained momentum last week when the Kanawha County Board of Education voted to donate 50 acres of property to the T-Center, a proposed residential treatment facility developed by the Kanawha Valley Fellowship Home.

While the center was discussed at only one meeting, board members and Superintendent Ron Duerring spoke about the proposal ahead of time, assistant superintendent Thomas Williams said.

The 4-0 decision was met with fierce criticism in the following days, something board President Robin Rector did not expect to happen.

She said the backlash can be owed to a lack of communication.

“People didn’t hear about this because it was the summer,” she said. “And it just so happened that pieces of this were finalized when school started and people were paying more attention.

“If I have a regret, it’s that we didn’t spend more meetings discussing this,” Rector said. “We probably could have and should have spent more time communicating what this was.”

School board officials don’t see their decision as something that warrants controversy, though.

Rector said the board saw a need in the community and decided to jump on the opportunity to make use of unused land in a positive way.

Good intentions have not swayed the opinions of parents and others who oppose the deal. Some worry the proximity of the center could harm students by bringing unwanted drug activity into the area.

Rector said she understands the concerns people have, but guarantees students will be safe because patients at the center will be on “lock down” with limited visitors privileges. While the center is across the street from Capital High, it will sit on a more secluded tract, further up the hill.

Rector also said people who suggest the center will bring drugs to Capital demean the school, as well as its students, teachers and staff.

“It’s sad that people would make a connection,” she said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Capital. This is about a piece of property owned by the board.”

Others oppose the project because the board donated the land instead of selling it to fund facility upgrades or build a football field for the school.

The land was last appraised in 2008 at nearly $500,000, but the property sat on the market for more than a decade with no buyers.

“That would have been our first choice, but the market has to be there,” Rector said. “There has to be a buyer.”

While the board didn’t lose money on the land through property taxes, Rector said donating the property was the right business decision. Because the land will be turned over to the T-Center, the county will now be able to collect taxes.

“That’s potential revenue coming back into our system.”

At their last meeting, board members were uniform in their praise for the center even though Pete Thaw chose not to vote due to a conflict of interest. His son was involved in the project development.

Members noted the center’s potential to educate youth and families afflicted by substance abuse. West Virginia has one of the highest overdose rates in the country.

The school board isn’t the only county agency to consider partnering with the T-Center.

The Kanawha County Commission was expected to pledge $200,000 to the $10 million project at its meeting Thursday, but opted at the last minute to postpone the decision until a center representative can discuss the proposal with the Capital High community.

Commissioner Dave Hardy agreed to table the motion, but said the commission will continue to work with the T-Center to raise awareness about the proposal.

W.Va. students fall behind on college readiness exam

West Virginia high school graduates tested below the national average on ACT’s college readiness exam this year, a new report has found.

The state’s composite score of 20.6 — on a scale of 1 to 36 — has remained the same for the past four years and continues to come short of the national average of 21. Only 21 percent of ACT test takers score higher.

While students outperformed their national peers in English and reading subtests with scores of 20.4 and 21.4, they fell behind in math and science with scores of 19.5 and 20.6. The national averages for English, reading, math and science are 20.3, 21.3, 20.9 and 20.8, respectively.

The test, which consists of the four subcategories and an optional essay, is used by admissions offices to decide if a student is ready for introductory college courses. It also determines whether a student from West Virginia is eligible to receive the Promise scholarship.

Of the 11,191 high school graduates who took the test in 2014, 68 percent are considered ready for college-level English. Less than half are prepared for college reading, math and science, and only 19 percent of students are ready for all four.

Each subtest has a different benchmark that determines college readiness. A student who meets or exceeds it has a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a freshman-level course in that subject.

According to the report, the majority of students are not prepared to succeed in a postsecondary setting, as only 26 percent of American high school graduates meet all four ACT benchmarks.

West Virginia students have a good opportunity to improve though. The report found that 10 percent of test takers were often one or two points shy of meeting a benchmark and that improvements could be made by getting more students to take college preparatory classes.

In a statement, Superintendent Charles Heinlein applauded the class of 2014, but said there is still work to be done. “Students, teachers and parents must continue their unwavering focus on preparing our young citizens for future personal and professional success,” he said.

In its 2014 profile of West Virginia, ACT outlined ways to improve scores and increase college readiness. It suggested providing better access for all students to take the test. Only about 65 percent of high school graduates took it at least once, a 3 percent drop from 2010 but nearly 10 points higher than the national average.

It also suggested encouraging students to develop college and work ready skills regardless of their postsecondary plans, making sure they are taking the right courses, evaluating the rigor of those courses and providing guidance based on a their career and college aspirations.

While only 73 percent of West Virginia’s 2014 high school graduates are now enrolled in a two- or four-year college, 95 percent reported they aspire to pursue a postsecondary education. More than 20 percent were potential first-generation college students.

The ACT is administered in all 50 states and is the predominate college-entrance exam in West Virginia.

Students who earn a 22 composite score and at least 20 points in each of the four subtests are eligible for the Promise Scholarship as long as they maintained a 3.0 grade point average in high school. It provides $4,750 each year.

There are six test dates scheduled between September and June, but students are not required to take it.

A railroad that connects us all

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I recently wrote about a group of Kanawha County students who rode a special New York Central passenger train to school in the early- to mid-1900s. Riders who are still living are now in their 70s and 80s. While their memories dim with age, they fondly remember their time on the train like it was yesterday.

After days of research, talking to a dozen riders and hiking through the woods surrounding little hillside communities like Quick and Coco searching for the remaining tracks, I realized there was more to this story than what could be contained in one article, which I have linked below for those who have yet to read it.

Former students remember train ride to school.

Once the story printed, I started getting phone calls from people who rode the train, relatives and others who had information or stories to tell.

It pained me to know several wonderful anecdotes had to be left out of the story, but getting a flood of new stories made it clear I had to do a follow-up. These stories are too good not to be told.

Christine Quinn, 71, called me the day the story printed and told me she was one of the hundreds of kids who rode the train. She also had one of the most heart-warming stories I’ve ever heard.

When she was a young girl, she would board the train in Quick and ride it to Blakeley, where her two friends, Gayle and Deanna Ryans, lived. She said she and her friends had an agreement to take turns riding the train so they could spend one night a week with each other. One week, Quinn would ride to Blakeley, and then her friends would come to her house in Quick the next week.

“That was the only form of communication we had,” she said.

The girls did this until the train was decommissioned in 1959, after which, the trio lost contact.

Without the aid of telephones or social media, Quinn essentially stopped seeing her best friends despite living only 10 miles apart.

But what’s a good story without a reunion?

Quinn, who now lives in St. Albans with her husband John, said she went to introduce herself to a new neighbor recently. Expecting to just welcome her to the neighborhood, Quinn instead was reunited with an old friend.

Quinn didn’t realize it at first, but her new neighbor was the younger sister of her two childhood friends. Through the simple gesture of saying “hello,” Quinn was able to reconnect with her friends through their sister. She said they now see each other regularly.

There are many more stories left to be told, which I will save for another day, but one thing is certain: without that train, many life-long friendships never would have been formed.

It connected people then, and it still connects them today.

Scripps Spelling Bee offers early enrollment

West Virginia speller Varun Kukkillaya at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.
West Virginia speller Varun Kukkillaya at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May.

I like spelling bees.

I don’t know if it’s my love for language or my competitive nature, but there’s something about the national bee that’s exciting.

This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, which aired on ESPN networks in May, was about as  engaging as any sporting event could hope to be. The dramatic spell-off, which ended in Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe being named co-chapmpions, and the confident, yet heartbreaking elimination of fan-favorite Jacob Williamson made the Bee the most tweeted and talked about event that week.

We’re still months away from the 2014-2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee, but the start of school also serves as the start of Bee season.

Early enrollment starts today, which allows teachers, school administrators and PTA leaders to sign their schools up for the Bee at a discounted rate of $130. Early enrollment ends October 15, after which regular enrollment extends to December 12.

Enrollment takes place exclusively at www.spellingbee.com.

Once enrolled, the school will receive resources needed to run a classroom or school spelling bee, which will take place later this fall and winter. From there, winning spellers will move on to county and regional bees.

The 2014-2015 Scripps National Bee is expected to include 11 million participants this year.