WV state school superintendent says it’s time to act on Fayette schools
By Rusty Marks, State Journal
State School Superintendent Michael Martirano said he will do whatever it takes to get a consolidation plan put together to save Fayette County’s crumbling schools.
“We’ve got to pull the adult agendas out of here and do what’s right for the kids,” Martirano said. “Something has to be done. My kids are suffering.”
On Dec. 14, board members of the state School Building Authority shot down a $13 million funding request for Fayette County from the West Virginia Board of Education. It was part of a three-year, $39.6 million SBA funding request to consolidate four Fayette County high schools into one school with about 1,500 students and close Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail and Fayetteville high schools. Collins and Ansted middle schools also would close under the plan, along with Ansted, Divide, Gatewood and Fayetteville elementary schools.
The state school board seized control of the Fayette County school system in 2010, citing poor student performance and the pitiful condition of the county’s aging schools. Fayette County voters rejected a school bond call for new construction in June, and voted down school bonds in 2001 and 2009.
Meanwhile, SBA Executive Director David Sneed said he will send a consultant team to Fayette County to work with state and local school officials on a workable school consolidation plan in time for the next round of SBA funding next year.
Sneed said the SBA board was concerned about travel times for some students to the proposed consolidated high school in Fayette County. But he said the main reason the SBA voted against the county funding request was a lack of consensus among Fayette County citizens and officials about the controversial school closure plan.
Sneed said even the Fayette County Board of Education seemed split over the details of the plan.
School systems compile their consolidation, construction and renovation plans into a complicated document known as a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, or CEFP. Sneed said it’s Fayette County’s CEFP that the SBA has a problem with. For whatever reason, he said county officials have been unable to come up with a CEFP that residents and school officials can agree on.
“This has been a problem in Fayette County, really, for 25 years,” Sneed said.
Martirano agrees Fayette County has had trouble getting buy-in to its CEFP.
“We’ve had a lot of plans,” he said. “This has been going on for the last 15-plus years, plan after plan after plan.”
Part of the public resistance to past school plans has been fear and distrust of school consolidation, Martirano said. When generations of family members have all gone to the same school, many alumni are reluctant to see that school close.
“There is great emotion and passion when it comes to community schools,” he said.
But at some point, parents and administrators have to acknowledge that the number of students in Fayette County has been consistently dropping, that the school system has more buildings than it can afford to keep, and that many of those buildings are falling apart.
That point has been reached in Fayette County, Martirano said. He said five of Fayette County’s schools “are in conditions I wouldn’t put my enemy’s kids in.”
Martirano said he is trying to set up a meeting with Sneed to figure out the next move for Fayette County.
“Regardless of what the SBA’s opinion is of the state (school) board and regardless of what the state board thinks of the SBA, we’ve got to move forward for the kids,” Martirano said. “I’m running as fast as I can to start the process to move this along,” he said. “I’m not going to bury my head in the sand on this.”