State Board of Education hears comments on large consolidated Fayette school
By Sarah Plummer, Register-Herald Reporter
FAYETTEVILLE — After hearing from 42 Fayette County residents during a public comment period, State Board of Education President Michael Green said the board has a "serious decision and serious consideration" ahead of them today as they vote on future of Fayette County Schools.
The board will reconvene in Charleston at 10 a.m. today to discuss and consider amending Fayette County's Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan to align with Fayette Superintendent Terry George's plan for a two high school district.
"Your passion was clear, and your commitment was clear," said Green, speaking to more than 400 in attendance. "It is about time we do something in Fayette County."
One of the 27 who spoke supporting the proposed plan to cut the school district from 18 to 11 schools and create preK-8 schools was Cindy Chamberlin.
"It is no longer fiscally responsible to keep all schools open. Schools are in disrepair, students are attending school where there are condemned buildings, and there are too many subs for quality education. It is time for a change," she said.
She presented to the state board a petition with 402 signatures in favor of the plan with 25 pages of comments.
Collins fifth-grader Ethan Thomas said he is one of the many students the proposed plan will directly affect.
"We feel like no one has cared about our situation. We are spread out across three schools. Our teachers juggle carts. This is not an ideal situation," he said. "Thank you for making me feel like the students of this county and our education are a top priority. It is time for a change."
"We cannot continue in Fayette County to deny the quality education our students are guaranteed according to their 14th Amendment rights," said Ansted Middle teacher Jason Crouch. "We as educators cannot plan for our schools. We need some kind of continuity and consistence to make plans for academic growth for our students."
Dr. Chuck Burdette Jr., a physician based in Montgomery, said every school he attended and several his children have attended have been closed. While he has fought for schools and has been saddened by school closings in the past, he supports the proposed plan.
"I challenge you to give our kids in Fayette County what other kids have in other counties," he said. "I don't believe Meadow Bridge and other schools should lose, but we can't think like five separate communities. We have to start thinking as one and start thinking with our future and our students as our focus."
Parent Jennifer Campbell said she believes that something must be done, but took issue with situating the high school on 50 acres next to the existing Oak Hill High School.
She notes that George hopes the Division of Highways will work with the county to create a dedicated exit from U.S. 19 to the school, but that is not secured.
She proposes putting the students on land near Midland Trail, which would reduce long bus rides for Meadow Bridge students.
Several of those who opposed the plan or aspects of the plan stressed the school district's unwillingness to allow Meadow Bridge Citizens for Community School to pay for a second inspection of their second story, which was condemned after a county-wide inspection earlier this year.
Joe Rozell asked for a second structural inspection, which he believes could change the board's opinion on consolidating Meadow Bridge.
Frank Groves, 1960 graduate of Meadow Bridge High, said he agrees with the proposal to consolidate the three high schools along U.S. 19, but asks for Meadow Bridge to be left out of the plan. He said three high schools in the county instead of two might save more money in the long run due to high transportation costs.
Parent Mistie Richmond said what Meadow Bridge students might gain in extra AP classes and a wider variety of sports will be negated by a two-hour bus ride each way.
Although George and Transportation Director Gary Hough assert only seven bus routes will exceed 60 minutes and the longest routes are expected to be 80 minutes, Richmond says that is not possible.
Richmond said a route over Backus Mountain, through Prince and Layland, takes 1 hour and 13 minutes in a car with at least another 7 minutes for bus stops.
Another route from Meadow Bridge to Oak Hill, through Rainelle, over Sewell Mountain via U.S. 60 and south on U.S. 19 is 52 miles and takes 1 hour and 16 minutes by car without stops, she said.
Angela Gilkerson asked why the new school wasn't positioned somewhere like Lansing to provide more equitable bus rides for students.
She said Meadow Bridge is geographically isolated, much like Valley, and should be removed from the consolidation plan.
Retired Meadow Bridge High School Principal Al Martine spoke against the plan and also asked to allow a second opinion on the school's second story.
Fayette Commissioner Matt Wender presented a letter in support of the plan on behalf of the commission and Oak Hill City Manager Bill Hannabass offered support on behalf of the City of Oak Hill.
West Virginia Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, spoke out in favor of the plan. "Consider the obligation those of us in leadership have to the future of West Virginia and the children in our districts. Think of the lasting impact you can have on Fayette County by supporting Mr. George's plan," she said.
There were other state legislators present Tuesday, but Kessinger was the only one to speak.
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During the earlier Fayette County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, two local members overtly shared their position on the proposed plan.
Board member Patsy Holliday said she fully supports the plan except, "I would like to keep Meadow Bridge, Meadow Bridge. I guess there are some bus routes that take over two hours, hazardous terrain and there are other small schools, like Pickens."
Other than that detail, Holliday said she felt like it was a good plan and she approved its proposed location.
Board member Leon Ivey said he supports the plan.
"I feel this is the last opportunity we have as a county for our children and the economic stability of our community. If this doesn't go forward, I don't know where we go from here," he said. "There are some problems we can't address until you get children in safe buildings."
If the state board approves the plan today, George will seek School Building Authority funds in December to construct the more than $50 million consolidated high school.