Editorial: Fayette’s school crisis

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Editorial: Fayette’s school crisis
Charleston Gazette

For thousands of West Virginia children, education offers the main hope for a good future and a rewarding career. But Fayette County youngsters face severe obstacles.In 2001, an overwhelming 86 percent of Fayette residents voted against a bond issue to upgrade dilapidated schools. In 2009, a strong 77 percent killed another improvement bond. Two of the county’s five school board members opposed the bond.

After the 2009 flop, the state Office of Education Performance Audits filed a 160-page report saying Fayette schools were substandard, with decrepit buildings, inadequate staffs, low test scores and a “contentious” county school board. The state Board of Education seized control of Fayette schools in 2010, on grounds that they were depriving children of an adequate education.

As reporter Ryan Quinn related, most of Collins Middle School in Oak Hill abruptly was condemned for safety reasons and closed in January, with pupils hastily transferred to other schools.Meanwhile, an upper floor at Meadow Bridge High School likewise was condemned as unsafe for occupation. In the past, Geoff Heeter described how his fifth-grade daughter was hit in the head by falling concrete at a now-closed school.In desperation, another $39 million bond issue is being proposed to rescue Fayette schools.

It would increase property taxes — but would take effect only if the state School Building Authority gives Fayette a $25 million matching grant. Early voting starts Saturday and continues until June 10, preceding a June 13 election.Again, two members of the “contentious” county board oppose the bond issue. And “VOTE NO SCHOOL BOND” signs are posted by some residents who dislike property taxes or resent past school closures. At the state Board of Education, President Gayle Manchin won’t say whether she supports the Fayette bond.

In about three weeks, the election will decide the future of Fayette County schools — and the future of 6,800 Fayette students. Will voters show that there’s hope for improvement? What hope is there for West Virginia if the young get inferior education?