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Fayette commission, parents file suit against the SBA

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Fayette commission, parents file suit against the SBA
By Sarah Plummer, (Beckley) Register-Herald Reporter

A lawsuit has been filed against the School Building Authority of West Virginia by Mountain State Justice Inc. on behalf of the Fayette County Commission and individual plaintiffs Shawna Sparks, Geoffrey Heeter and Fayette County Commissioner Matthew Wender.

The suit was filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

In a written statement Tuesday, Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Harrah said "the public outcry among Fayette County citizens has reached a fevered pitch, calling for the state government, which remains in control of the Fayette County schools, to address the failing school buildings and related deficiencies within the schools."

“Regretfully the County Commission finds itself seeking the last remedy to right the wrong being dealt to the youth of our county," said Wender. "Unfortunately, Gov. Tomblin has chosen to not take a position on the matter of the unprecedented action taken by the School Building Authority. In absolute terms, our students in Fayette County have a fundamental right to a thorough and efficient education in a safe environment.”

Parent Geoffrey Heeter said he first became involved in working toward improved schools in 2005 after part of the now closed Nuttall Middle School fell on his daughter's head.

"At that time the roof had been leaking for years, and there was a trash can sitting being two computers in the computer lab catching drips," he described. "It is incredibly maddening that we have not moved forward more since then. I feel like we have been forced to desperate measures. I'm not a litigious person, but some point you have to throw your hands up."

Since the closure of the main building at the Collins Middle School campus, students have dealt with displacement, overcrowding and other challenges, Harrah said.

Harrah said Fayette Superintendent Terry George developed an amendment to the county's Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP) by "drawing on the abundant community engagement, studies, recommendations and plans, that have been developed over the preceding decade." The plan was developed to resolve the most outstanding needs of the county schools.

"It was the understanding of the Petitioners (Fayette County Commission) that the West Virginia Board of Education alone, and not the School Building Authority, that has the responsibility for issuing a final approval of school closures, which in turn 'automatically amends the CEFP' without requiring any further action by the SBA in order to complete the CEFP amendment," Harrah said.

On Sept. 8, 2015, the state Board of Education voted to approve the CEFP amendment.

The School Building Authority (SBA) listed Fayette County's CEFP under the "Consent Agenda" item when it published its Sept. 28, 2015, meeting agenda.

The suit states this caused the school district and county citizens to "be under the impression that the review of the CEFP amendment was merely perfunctory." However, the SBA board conducted an in-depth review of the academic merits and funding requirements under the CEFP amendment under an unpublished and unnoticed "New Business" section of the agenda.

The lawsuit alleges that the SBA violated its legal duty of providing notice of the purpose of the meeting. Moreover, its rejection of the amendment is void because the decision was made outside the context of the advertised and published meeting agenda.

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the SBA from rejecting the Fayette County CEFP amendment without first issuing public notice that it will be considered on or before the next SBA board meeting.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the School Building Authority's 11-member board is Nov. 9-10.