State school board to appeal judge's decision on Nicholas consolidation

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State school board to appeal judge's decision on Nicholas consolidation
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia board of education, following an executive session, voted unanimously to reject a plan by Nicholas County to consolidate local schools or to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

There was no discussion in public of the decision, just a vote. Board member Dave Perry made the motion.

The board issued a statement after the vote was made:

“From the beginning of evaluating Nicholas County’s proposed CEFP amendment, the WVBE has focused on the best interest of all students in the county. Our decision was based on what we thought was right and within our constitutional authority as members of the State Board of Education. As such, the WVBE has decided to appeal Judge Bloom’s ruling to the West Virginia Supreme Court.”

Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom had issued his ruling last Friday afternoon in favor of the Nicholas County Board of Education in the contentious Richwood school consolidation case.

Bloom concluded the West Virginia Board of Education overstepped their authority in reversing the earlier decision by the local board. He ordered the state board to let the consolidation go forward.

The judge had to decide whether the state board’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The local school board prefers a plan to combine five schools at one campus in the Summersville area. The schools are Richwood High and Middle Schools, Summersville Middle, Nicholas County High School, and the county’s vocational school.

Richwood High and Middle and Summersville Middle were destroyed in last summer’s devastating West Virginia floods. For now, students are learning in portable classrooms.

Twice, state school board members rejected that plan — expressing concern that local board members didn’t adequately listen to concerns from Richwood residents and that alternatives might exist.

In the earlier hearing before Bloom, state board members acknowledged that members of the Nicholas County board abided by the letter of state policy, which they often called by its number, 6204.

But the state board members said they didn’t believe the Nicholas board members listened intently enough to concerns or that they engaged with all county residents with enough zeal.

Bloom had concluded the state school board went beyond its own rules. Bloom wrote that the state board’s general supervision powers do not give it free reign.

“Based on the foregoing, the Court finds and concludes that in considering a CEFP amendment to close and/or consolidate local schools, the state Board does not have unfettered discretion to simply substitute its judgment for that of a local county school board of consider arbitrary criteria not contained in WVBE policies or regulations.

“Moreover, the Court finds it patently unfair to arbitrarily change closure/consolidation requirements after a local school board has expended considerable time, effort and resources to comply with promulgated State Board policies,” the judge wrote.

Bloom went on to say, “Such departure from WVBE policy and regulations is the textbook description of arbitrary conduct, as it results in disparate inconsistent treatment of similarly situated parties by setting different standards for similar situations.”