April 07, 2016

Manchin speaks via Skype with Harman Students | Elkins Inter Mountain

HARMAN - Students at Harman School communicated with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., via video-conference Wednesday, as part of the senator's weekly session with high school and college students around the state.

Manchin answered five questions formulated by the students, which delved into state and national policy issues such as the future of coal, the development of Corridor H and medical marijuana reform. He also touched on local issues, such as Harman School obtaining SBA funds to complete facility renovations.

Kaylee Dudley, a 10th grader, asked Manchin what he plans to do to keep small schools like Harman open and properly funded, pointing out that Harman School was recently recognized for its high graduation rate by the West Virginia Department of Education.

Manchin stressed, "education is still a local responsibility," but noted federal standards are necessary. The federal government's responsibility should be to obtain the highest level of education possible in every state and to ensure that students can transfer without falling behind.

"If you're in third grade, fifth grade or eighth grade and your family moves to another state, or to West Virginia, you shouldn't be a grade or two behind because the previous school didn't keep up," he said.

Manchin said the Randolph County Board of Education should have a "high priority to Harman."

"The more education you have, the more value you add to the economy and, most importantly, you improve the quality of life for yourself," he said. "I would hope that every one of you understands that you've got to carry on."

Manchin, who attended Farmington High School from grades seven through 12, added he'll do all he can to advocate for the small schools.

Next, Becca Bennett, an 11th grader, asked the senator his thoughts on the facility concerns at Harman School. She inquired about legislation that would create a rainy day fund to handle unique emergencies when local funding is strained.

When the school was declared unusable following a roof collapse in July 2014, parents and community members stepped forward and worked to raise funds to assist the school board in repairing the school.

Officials estimated between $205,000 and $207,000 was spent to repair part of the building so the elementary students could return Nov. 18, 2014, and approximately $250,000 was spent on Phase II of the project, which repaired the east wing hallway and four classrooms.

All students were allowed to return to Harman School for instruction March 16, 2015.

Manchin said there is a state "rainy-day fund" for such situations. When he left the governor's office in 2010, there was $1 billion set aside for the "rainy day fund," he noted, adding the West Virginia School Building Authority also has the means to provide emergency repairs.

"I don't know why that was left unattended for so long," Manchin said. "I don't know enough about the county politics, what got caught up and why the Board of Education didn't deem Harman to be an emergency, unless they were just trying to close it."

Manchin brought up Farmington High School again, pointing out the school was closed in 1975 because of structural problems. Farmington eventually merged with several other schools, eventually merged to form North Marion High School.

"They knew about these problems," he said. "Rather than try and fix them and attend to the problems, they let it get so bad that they had to condemn the school and that was the reason for closing it."

In late January, Randolph County Schools submitted a project proposal to the West Virginia School Building Authority to receive $192,000 from the state, to go along with $35,000 that was raised by the Harman community. If the proposal is accepted, the funds would be put toward repairing the west wing of the building, which includes a hallway and six currently closed classrooms that remain damaged from when the roof collapsed. A response is expected in June.

Manchin promised students and staff that he would follow-up with a phone call and a letter to the SBA requesting their "urgent attention toward a dire situation that's been neglected." The room burst into applause.

Future of Coal

Lacey Rohrbaugh, 10th grade, asked Manchin what the future of coal is in West Virginia.

Manchin responded that in West Virginia and throughout America a transition is occurring, but added the U.S. Department of Energy estimates coal will be needed through 2040.

"The way they're talking about it right now, they could get rid of (coal) tomorrow and not miss a beat Those aren't the facts," he said. "The bottom line is you might not want something or like it, but if you need it, you find a way to use it in a better fashion which means more technology."

Manchin said such over-reaching by the federal government, in an attempt to make people believe America can do without coal, has been devastating to West Virginia economics.

"With the policies in Washington, it's almost like you're trying to swim and someone jumps on your back to hold you down," he said. "While it's difficult enough just to stay afloat, now they make it almost impossible and you end up drowning that's what we're trying to prevent."

Corridor H

Katlyn Bennett, a 12th grader, asked Manchin how to speed up the completion of the Corridor H project.

Manchin said he's been an advocate for completing Corridor H for many years, pointing out he focused on the project as governor.

"Until we have infrastructure money, until we're committed to rebuilding this country, it's tough. You're getting it done a little at a time," he said. "It makes it extremely difficult."

Manchin added "it would be foolish" to not complete the roadway.

"It would just transform that whole area of the state where you live," he told students. "That's my main project, that's what I've been pushing for and I will continue to push for funding for that."

Legalizing marijuana

Zachary Roy, a 10th grader, asked the senator for his views on the legalization of marijuana, for both medical and recreational purposes.

Manchin said he would be opposed to the legalization of marijuana because of the significant drug problem in West Virginia, adding many addicts and former addicts he's spoken with have reported the first drug they ever did was marijuana. He noted sentencing guidelines for marijuana arrests should be reformed.

"I think guidelines need to be changed and we need to look at that differently than we have," he said. "Throwing somebody in jail for using marijuana does not solve any problems. On the other hand, legalizing it hasn't solved any problems either."

As far as legalizing medical marijuana, Manchin said he's open to a discussion of the issue, but wants to learn more about it.

After the session, Harman social studies instructor Rocky Nestor said he asked the students to formulate a series of questions for the senator and then selected five from the bunch.

"I thought this was good because the students got to state a question to a national representative that brought it home to us," he said. "And not only did they get to hear his response, but it was open for us to ask more questions to get a better understanding."

Nestor added the students took notes on the session and the experience will be incorporated into the curriculum for the rest of the week.

Harman Principal April Senic said it was a good experience for the students.

"They now have a better understanding of how some issues are more local issues and some issues are more federal issues and how differently these things have to be looked at by different governmental bodies," she said.

The senator commented on the video conference later in the day.

"Today I had a thoughtful discussion with a bright group of students from Harman School," Manchin said in a Wednesday afternoon statement. "The students posed excellent questions and we had a lively conversation about several current political topics."

Manchin thanked the Harman School students and staff who participated in the discussion and added he hopes to visit again.

"I always look forward to my weekly Skype sessions because they remind me how engaged our youth are and gives me an opportunity to hear their perspective on various issues affecting West Virginia," he said.

By:  By Chris Lee