State board plans to take up Nicholas request after court ruling

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State board plans to take up Nicholas request after court ruling
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education plans to have a special meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the Nicholas County school consolidation plan, the board said in a statement read at its meeting that was held Thursday in Charleston.

The Nicholas County BOE voted more than two months ago to change its school facilities plan to include the consolidations of Richwood High School, Nicholas County High School, Richwood Middle School and Summersville Middle School. The two Richwood schools and Summersville Middle were destroyed in last June’s flood.

The Nicholas BOE has been waiting on the state BOE to sign off on the faculties plan change but that hasn’t happened. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is offering funding to build the new schools. Nicholas County has until June 25 to let FEMA know which funding option it has chosen.

Thursday’s statement said the state Board was waiting on a decision by a Nicholas County circuit judge on a challenge to the local board’s decision. Some citizens claim the Nicholas board violated the Open Meetings Law.

“Presuming Court action does not preclude the WVBE from considering a request by the Nicholas County Board of Education, the WVBE will schedule a meeting as soon as is practical and compliant after evaluating the Court order,” the statement said.

Nicholas BOE President Gus Penix told MetroNews Thursday he was pleased the stalemate with the state BOE appears to be over.

“This should have occurred earlier. It’s unusual that a board of education would have to go through this with the state board to be heard but we’re thankful that we’re moving in a direction now that hopefully we will be heard in a very short period of time,” Penix said.

State School Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine told state BOE members Thursday the delay in the board’s decision was not unprecedented.

“It’s not uncommon for decisions to be delayed based on an injunction,” Paine said.

Penix said the state BOE members won’t be ruling on the merits of the consolidation plan but whether the Nicholas County BOE followed policy in making the decision.

The majority of state BOE members have been appointed in recent months by Gov. Jim Justice. Justice said in his February State of the State Address that he hoped Richwood would get a new high school. Penix said again Thursday the comment caught many off guard.

“We certainly hope that that doesn’t impact the state Board of Education members as they approach a decision in this matter,” he said.

The circuit judge is expected to rule any day on the legal challenge. Penix anticipates a special state BOE meeting before next month’s regularly scheduled meeting.

As proposed, Nicholas County High School, Richwood High School and Nicholas County Career and Technical Center would be consolidated into one 250,000 square foot facility while Richwood Middle School and Summersville Middle School would merge into one school covering 97,047 square feet.

The chosen school sites are at the Glade Creek Business Park in Summersville, what the state School Building Authority has identified as “closest to the center of the enrollment area.”