Kessler tours Fayette schools same day SBA lawsuit is filed
By Alex Wiederspiel, WV MetroNews
FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — The law firm Mountain State Justice filed a civil suit against the School Building Authority in Kanawha County Circuit Court on behalf of the Fayette County Commission and several other individual parties to find a legal remedy in the dispute between the Fayette County school system and the School Building Authority.
Fayette County Prosecutor Larry Harrah said the suit represents Fayette County’s frustration with the way the School Building Authority rejected the Fayette County consolidation plan without an open meeting or notification to the parties involved.
“They have to operate in the day light just like every other public agency,” Harrah said.
During a meeting on September 28, 20 days after the West Virginia Board of Education voted in favor of Fayette County’s plan 6-3, the School Building Authority rejected Fayette County’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP).
The CEFP would have closed a number of schools. Additionally, it would have consolidated the four high schools into one. Fayette County requested $39 million over a span of three years. The Fayette County Board of Education planned to match with local funds in the neighborhood of $17 million over that span of time, despite the county electorate’s rejection of a bond issue in June.
The lawsuit alleges that the School Building Authority failed to uphold it’s legal duty when it did not notify the petitioners of the nature of that meeting. It further argues the SBA held an in-depth review of the Fayette County CEFP in “contravention of the published agenda.”
Mountain State Justice filed the suit on the same day that Senator Jeff Kessler, one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for Governor, toured eight Fayette County schools to see the conditions for himself.
“They’re dilapidated,” he said. “There are several of them that are ready for a wrecking ball, quite frankly. And it’s tragic to look around to 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 in a learning environment.”
Kessler toured Collins Middle School, Oak Hill High School, Fayetteville High School, Fayetteville Elementary School, Ansted Middle School, Ansted Elementary School, Meadow Bridge High School, and Mt. Hope Elementary School.
“Hats off to the teachers and administration that are doing the best that they can,” he said. “But there are at least two schools that I have seen that are absolutely unfit for human habitation–let alone education.”
Larry Harrah said the group touring the schools, which included Senator Kessler, Fayette County Superintendent Terry George, several local House Delegates, and concerned parents, was particularly distressed after seeing the conditions at Ansted Middle School.
“We left Ansted Middle and we were just–the feeling in the car was just–deflated,” Harrah said. “It’s just a depressing feeling. It’s horrible. The conditions at Ansted Middle are deplorable.”
Some of the conditions Harrah was talking about included extensive water damage, temporary heating, and an exposed electrical conduit.
Similarly at Ansted Elementary, cafeteria employees are engaging in major cleaning every morning due to an excess of coal dust from a coal-fired furnace.
Superintendent Terry George Ansted Middle is operating under a temporary heating plan due to gross inefficiencies in the original heating system. In the case of Ansted Middle, they must run their heat for 24 hours a day in case of severely cold weather. The past two winters have seen harsh temperatures often in the single digits or negatives–and in those instances the building rarely gets warmer than sixty degrees.
Kessler said the issues with the Fayette County school facilities provides a perfect example of failing to invest in the future human capital in the state, which he believes is why the economy continues to struggle.
“The core, and the only salvation to any of this, is a quality education to improve the education of our citizens so that we become a more attractive work force,” he said. “Work force participation and work force development are the most important and critical things we can do in this state.”
Kessler also criticized the recently announced budget cuts.
“I know we’re in an economic downturn, but cut, cut, cut?” he said. “You can’t cut your way to prosperity. And I’m seeing now first hand how that’s affecting opportunities for our kids to be successful when I see some of these dilapidated facilities that I’m seeing today. It’s shocking, it’s sad, and it’s heartbreaking, quite frankly. I can see why many of the parents are outraged.”
Harrah is hoping the case, which has been assigned to Judge Duke Bloom, will be expedited.
“Hopefully we can get an emergency hearing on our petition within the next week or so,” he said.
Shawna Sparks, Geoffrey Heeter, and Fayette County Commissioner Matthew Wender are each listed individually as petitioners in the law suit.