Fayette school superintendent drilled with questions during construction project request to SBA
By Carrie Hodousek | WV MetroNews
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What should have been a 15 minute slot for Fayette County School Superintendent Terry George to present the county’s school consolidation plan to members of the state School Building Authority Tuesday resulted in over an hour of questions that drilled George on the plan.
George was the first of 11 county superintendents remaining Tuesday to lay out their requests at the West Virginia Lottery Building in Charleston. Fayette’s plan includes combining four of the county’s five high schools: Fayetteville, Oak Hill, Midland trail and Meadow Bridge. Oak Hill High School would become the new site for Collins Middle School. A consolidated high school would be in the Oak Hill area.
The SBA questioned transportation to the integrated school due to the fact that students would have to travel nearly 80 miles to get there by bus, and, ultimately, if that great distance would effect student attendance.
George said there are some students who currently live in Summers County that attend Meadow Bridge High School, but authority member Tom Lane said adding more of those students to a consolidated high school did not make sense.
“That’s been happening, as long as I know for the past 20 years,” George said following his presentation. “For me to comment and say that there has to be something done about that, that’s a situation we’ll investigate.”
Other concerns focused on the lack of community support that resulted in a failed bond issue in Fayette County earlier this year. State School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano posed the question that asked how the SBA should respond to Fayette’s request when residents can’t pass a bond issue that would back up their construction project.
George said Fayette is not the only county dealing with the problem of trying to pass a bond.
“I think that if you do your research, you’ll find that there had been other counties that had been funded that are not bringing bonds,” he said. “I think it’s always beneficial when a county can support itself and pass a bond to improve their schools, but I don’t think it’s absolutely imperative.”
Authority member Eric Lewis told George the residents in Fayette County need to step up and pass a bond, rather than having George ask the state to help “bail them out.”
George said he did not have a response as to why the bond didn’t pass, but he did say the county was not coming to the SBA “empty handed.” Out of the $56 million project, George requested nearly $39 million from the SBA over the course of three years. About $17 million would be funded locally.
During George’s presentation he told the authority the county’s plan may not be the best, but that it was a solid plan. SBA Vice President Steve Burton told George they wanted to see the best plan.
“Anytime you have to consider financing to come up with a plan for students, it’s not always the best plan,” George explained to reporters. “Optimally, we could build 18 new schools and we would replace every existing school in the county, but financially that’s not feasible.”
The conversation about the structural conditions at Fayette County schools has been a hot topic of discussion between many local and state officials in recent months. Martirano previously called the conditions some of the worst in the state.
“I inherited this situation in July,” George said. “I’m appalled by the conditions. I found that we’re putting students in is unconscionable for students to go to school in some of the facilities we have.”
“We need action now. We need help and I felt we delivered a plan that would provide that assistance,” George added.
The SBA also heard project proposals Tuesday from Kanawha, Monongalia, Logan, Mason, Pleasants, Mercer, Ohio, Webster, Roane and Raleigh counties.
The counties that presented Monday included Jackson, Harrison, Doddridge, Tucker, Wirt, Pocahontas, Barbour, Braxton and Calhoun.
The authority has approximately $50 million to distribute to the counties they choose to fund. Final decisions will be announced next month.