HAMLIN, W. Va. — Almost everyone on the Lincoln County Board of Education is a new face.
Four out of five seats were up for grabs in last week’s primary election, clearing the way for newcomers to take on the incumbents.
Voters ultimately decided to elect David Bell, Ralph Jody Pistore, Jeremy Wilson and Shiela Butchie Burns to serve on the council.
Board Chairman Steve Priestley is the fifth and only board member to retain his seat.
West Virginia school board members run nonpartisan campaigns, but Pistore told MetroNews he and his male running mates want voters to know they each share conservative values.
“We came forward as Republicans, as conservatives, as Christian men, who want to have a positive impact on our school system,” Pistore said.
Pistore, Bell and Wilson were elected for a four-year term while Burns was elected for a two-year term following the recent death of a council member.
Two of the three men are pastors. Pistore is a pastor at First Baptist Church in South Charleston. Wilson is an associate youth pastor at Lincoln Church of God in West Hamlin.
Pistore said his top priority is addressing the current teacher shortage.
“We are losing a lot of our teachers, school staff and bus drivers. The first issue we are going to have to tackle is retaining employees,” he said.
A special circumstances review by the state Department of Education has been on Pistore’s mind as he prepares to take on the new role. He said he was not in favor of school closures and that consolidating Duval Pre K-8 and Midway Elementary schools in Alum Creek was a bad decision.
“We are not for the consolidation and closing of schools in small communities,” he said. “When you take the little school out of a little community, you take the heart out of that community. It really breaks morale and we are not for that.
Last week, the State Board of Education approved an amendment requested by the Lincoln County BOE to unify all Duval Pre-K through 8 students in Central Office until the new Duval/Midway School is built.
Duval School closed last year after being declared structurally unsafe for students. Issues included HVAC equipment, roofing, and mold.
Currently, Duval students in pre-kindergarten through grade 2 are located in portables at the former Duval site, grades 3 through 5 are in Hamlin in pre-kindergarten through grade 8, and students from grades 6 to 8 are at the central office.
Last December, the State School Building Authority awarded Lincoln County schools $14.7 million in needs grant funding and an additional $10 million is on the way in early fiscal 2023 to build the new school. Duval. The project must be accompanied by 3 million dollars of local funds.
Pistore said he now wants to review school district spending.
“They wanted me on the team so I could look at the finances of the school system. I ran several businesses,” he said.
The goal, Pistore said, is to restore local decision-making.
“Not just the school board, but local control of everything. We don’t want state or federal control. We want local control,” he said.
Each of the four new school board members begins their term on July 1.