Martirano cites poor facilities as WVBE calls for priority funding for Fayette

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Martirano cites poor facilities as WVBE calls for priority funding for Fayette
By Pamela Pritt, The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON— State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano has visited all 55 counties in West Virginia, but in none of them has seen the number of schools as badly in need of repair or replacement as those in Fayette County.

After the West Virginia Board of Education's 6-2 vote Tuesday to recommend the School Building Authority give Fayette County priority funding when it meets next week, Martirano said his vote will be to "get funding for those schools immediately."

The vote took place at a special meeting held via tele-conference. The resolution points out that the state board of education has intervened in Fayette County since 2010. The condition of school facilities was one of the reasons for intervention.

In spite of that intervention "no major improvements have been possible because of a lack of funding," the resolution said.

"No other county in our state...has this concentration of schools in this bad of conditions," he said.

Collins Middle School students are in three locations because of structural issues at the school in Oak Hill. Last month the school's sewage system failed.

"It's not a matter if something occurs, it's a matter of when another system is going to fail," the superintendent said. But Collins is not the only Fayette County school with building issues. Ansted Elementary School's coal-fired boiler spews coal dust into the school's kitchen, causing the cooks there to cover utensils in plastic so students can use them. Mount Hope High School's second floor has been condemned. "We need to respond to that now," he said.

"In my estimation this is a crisis state we're in right now for our children being educated in facilities that are less than desirable and we need to respond now to that," Martirano said.

The SBA meets Monday with some $52 million to disperse, and $200 million in requests from all over the state.

Fayette County Superintendent Terry George said his plan, which consolidates all the county's high schools except Valley, will cost about $56 million. According to the resolution the state BOE passed, Fayette will put up $17 million in matching funds, $11 million of that a lease/purchase agreement, in effect a loan from the county's state aid, to purchase equipment.

George said Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has been consulted about whether the state could be an interceptor in the loan process, but has not rendered a decision. If that's not possible, George said Fayette County will have a slightly higher interest rate, but will proceed with the lease/purchase agreement regardless.

The superintendent was pleased with the vote Tuesday, and thinks it will perhaps give the county an edge come Monday.

"I feel it gives us a fair opportunity to be awarded," George said.

Fayette County residents overwhelmingly defeated a $39 million levy this year. George said no one has since raised the issue of trying another bond levy to bolster facilities funding.

Board member Tom Campbell was one of the two nay votes Tuesday. Campbell had written an amendment to the resolution. That was defeated 6-2, as other board members voiced concerns it would delay funding for Fayette County for another cycle.

Campbell also sits on the SBA and could see Fayette County's funding request again next week. He said he'd have to weigh Fayette's needs against the other funding requests.

"I'll keep an open mind," he said. "We need to see what the recommendation is and what the funding is."

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Two West Virginia Board of Education members who voted against the resolution to make Fayette County facilities priority funding are also on the School Building Authority.  Former board president Wade Linger and members Tom Campbell and William White have opposed closing Meadow Bridge High School as part of the county's Comprehensive Facilities Plan.

Campbell and White opposed Tuesday's resolution; however, Linger voted in favor.

The Gazette-Mail reported Tuesday that White has filed an ethics complaint against the board's president, Michael I. Green.

White alleges that Green has violated the Open Meetings Act by writing the board member handbook outside of required public meetings, the G-M reported.

The Charleston newspaper reported that White has raised issues with the portion of the handbook that says state school board members serving on other "committees, agencies or authorities by virtue of appointment on behalf of the [state school] Board...should consider the clear position of the Board in all proceedings" before other agencies.

The handbook goes on to say if the member does not agree with the board's position, he or she should abstain from voting, the G-M reported.

Campbell said Tuesday evening he is bound by his conscience and would vote according to the evidence he is presented.

The SBA previously voted to deny Fayette County's consolidation plan, but reversed that decision in December when the Fayette County Commission filed a lawsuit against the SBA.