Boone County school consolidations loom, superintendent says

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Boone County school consolidations loom, superintendent says
By Samuel Speciale, Education Reporter, Charleston Gazette-Mail

Because of millions in lost property tax revenue and declining enrollment, Boone County officials are considering consolidating several of the county’s smaller schools.

Amid rumors that schools soon will be closed, Superintendent John Hudson told concerned parents and schools officials attending a Boone County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night that his office would announce what schools will be consolidated by December.

One shrinking school is already slated for closure, as was revealed Tuesday. Hudson said he intends to close Nellis Elementary, which is Boone’s least-attended school, with 98 students.

“We’re looking at various schools,” he told the Gazette-Mail.

When asked to name additional schools that might be closed or whether the county’s several elementary schools with fewer than 150 students would be considered for consolidation, Hudson said he was not yet ready to make final recommendations.

“I’m not at a point where I can say this school, this school or this school,” he said, “but if any school is targeted for closure, it will be announced.”

With declining enrollment and decreased tax revenue estimated at $5 million, Hudson said trends suggest funding in Boone County will continue to slip.

Boone County’s population, since 2010, has dropped about 4 percent. U.S. Census estimates put the county’s current population at about 23,000.During that same time, since 2010, Boone County also has lost about 4 percent of its students.

Five years ago, the county had nearly 4,700 students, according to state Department of Education enrollment data. Now, it enrolls fewer than 4,500.

That loss of about 200 students, while seemingly small, has hit the county’s coffers hard, Hudson said. Because funding for schools is based on the number of students enrolled, the county has lost an additional $1 million in state money.

“We’ve lost about $6 million in two years,” Hudson said.

While consolidation is all but certain, Hudson said the board has not yet taken action. He said his office will now follow state school consolidation procedures, found in the West Virginia Board of Education’s Policy 6204, to outline a plan he said will be available for public review before a vote is taken.

That policy states that county boards of education must submit proposed school closings or consolidations to the state school board for approval at least 30 days before a public hearing is scheduled. Principals of schools slated for closure or consolidation, the school that would receive its students and the chairpersons of the schools’ improvement councils also must be notified in advance.

Reasons for closure or consolidation must be outlined in the plan and must be supported by enrollment numbers and any other relevant data.

Public hearings and action by the board must be completed by Dec. 31 if schools are to be closed next year, the policy states.

Hudson said he expects the county to meet that deadline.