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Commentary: The untenable situation with Fayette County schools

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Commentary: The untenable situation with Fayette County schools
By Hoppy Kercheval, WV MetroNews

State School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano has visited over 200 of our schools since he took the job just over one year ago. He’s been to 46 of the state’s 55 counties, including Fayette County twice.

When asked to describe conditions at some of the Fayette County schools, he uses one word: Deplorable.

Martirano is not being hyperbolic.  Fayette County schools are crumbling around the students, teachers and staff.  State Senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Kessler said, following a tour of Fayette County schools, that conditions are deplorable.

“There are several of them that are ready for the wrecking ball, quite frankly,” Kessler said. “It’s tragic to look around and see these bright young faces at many of these schools. We need to step up and give them an opportunity to get a quality education.”

The question, however, is how to do that.

Last June, sixty-two percent of Fayette County voters rejected a $39 million bond issue, the third bond to fail since 2001.  Fayette County voters have not approved a school bond since 1973, and the community has been historically polarized over school funding issues, particularly as they affect the fate of community schools and impact taxes.  There is also lingering resentment in the Meadow Bridge community, which feels isolated from the rest of the county.

More recently, the Fayette County school system, working with the state Board of Education, came up with a new plan where the county would allocate $17 million and the state School Building Authority (SBA) would add $39 million to fund a school consolidation plan.

However, the SBA rejected the proposal, setting off a public dispute with the state Board of Education.  Now the legal advocacy organization Mountain State Justice has filed suit on behalf of the county against the SBA.

According to Fayette County Prosecutor Larry Harrah, “The public outcry among Fayette County citizens has reached a fevered pitch, calling for the state government, which remains in control of Fayette County schools, to address the failing school buildings and related deficiencies within the schools.”

Perhaps a “fevered pitch” is what’s necessary here, as long as the outrage is directed toward the unconscionable conditions of the school buildings, the failure to provide children with a thorough and efficient education, and the untenable working conditions for teachers and staff.

In public education, we expect children to do their best.  In Fayette County, at the State Board and at the SBA, the adults have to set that same high expectation for themselves and figure out a way forward in the best interest of the children.