Speaking out

A crowd of residents numbering in the hundreds rises to its feet and applauds in response to multiple speeches in opposition to the possible closing of Valley High School during a public hearing at the school in April in Smithers.

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Board of Education approved all closures and consolidations for Fayette County schools except Meadow Bridge High School.

The Wednesday vote was 8-1 with member Jeff Flanagan as the only no.

Board member Miller Hall made the motion to exclude Meadow Bridge from consolidation and closure, citing transport times and conditions as reasons for the exception.

Fayette County Superintendent Terry George said the change to exempt Meadow Bridge High School has affected the plan only minimally.

Under the plan, Meadow Bridge students would have transferred to Greenbrier West or Midland Trail. The building that houses grades 9-12 will still be used until the county receives funding to build a new pre-K-8 school, he said.

George explained during the meeting that funding for the CEFP is contingent on a loan of $11 million. The district anticipates repaying the lease-purchase load with cost savings due to closures and consolidations. Financing for the plan was developed by the School Building Authority and Fayette County Schools.

Previous bond attempts have been unsuccessful in 2001, 2009 and 2015.

George said the savings from Meadow Bridge High School would be a few personnel that would have been moved from the school.

“Although we would have liked to have had savings from that, it won’t impact our project.”

George emphasized that just because the state exempted Meadow Bridge from the plan doesn’t mean the rest of the plan will not be implemented.

“Fayette County plans to continue the current project of a pre-K-2 elementary school in Oak Hill and Collins Middle School,” George said. “Today’s decision to remove Meadow Bridge does not affect that project.”

George said he has concerns about Meadow Bridge High’s infrastructure, and said he hopes maintenance staff can continue to maintain the facility until a plan is developed to replace it.

Before the vote, 28 people spoke to the board. Those who supported the closures and consolidations said they were concerned about the safety of some of the buildings. They also said they believed their kids would receive better educational opportunities under the plan.

The concerns of those opposed included travel time, kids not being able to participate in extracurricular activities because of being in a large school or because travel would eat up too much time. They also mentioned concerns about drop out rates.

Parent Amanda Skaggs spoke in favor of the plan, saying her main concern is safe schools. She said all three of her children would lose their schools, but she supports the plan.

“Please move this county forward, not backward,” she told the board. “Please approve the closure so we can move forward.”

Bonnie Hicks, Meadow Bridge mayor, asked the board to consider allowing the community to keep its pre-K-12 school.

“It’s vital to our community and our children benefit greatly from being in a small, caring environment,” she said. “We have health care on campus. We have adequate infrastructure. We have a health clinic within a mile and a volunteer fire department with a mile. Even though we are small, we take care of our children.”

After the board’s decision, many people, especially those wearing Valley High shirts, were visibly upset. Some people in the hallway expressed their concerns and others had tears in their eyes.

Joyce Rollins, grandparent of Valley High and Middle students, said she is especially concerned about travel time.

“Some are on a bus an hour a day one way,” she said. “Are they going to be able to do sports when the parents may work in Fayette County and have to go to Riverside in Chelyan to pick kids up from practice? How many kids are going to be sitting there waiting on a ride?”

Rollins also is concerned about younger children going to school with older teenagers.

“Personally, if I had children who were school-age, I wouldn’t want a sixth grader going to school with a 12th grader,” she said. “I don’t care if they are separated by hallways. This is the trend they’re going to. With K-8, should kindergarteners be going to school with an 8th grader? There are a lot of issues.”

Brandon Harville, a sophomore at Valley High, also mentioned his concerns, especially an hour-long bus commute.

“It’s stupid,” he said. “All we need is a teacher to keep our school. We had people working putting up poles for a football field. It’s just stupid. I don’t see why they would keep Meadow Bridge open when their school is trashed.”

• • •

The plan approved Wednesday would reduce the number of schools from 18 to 11.

Under this plan, Ansted Middle School would close at the end of the 2018 school year. Rosedale, Valley, Fayetteville, Gatewood and Mount Hope elementary schools would close at the end of the 2019 school year.

Some schools would be reconfigured. New River Elementary School would be reconfigured to create a 3-5 elementary school. Collins Middle School would be reconfigured from grades 5-8 to grades 6-8 at the end of the 2019 school year. Midland Trail High School would be reconfigured to grades 6-12.

The plan also calls for the closure, reconfiguration and consolidation of Fayetteville High School, which would be renovated to create a pre-K-8 school. Valley High School would close and the building will be renovated to create a PreK-8 school.

The plan calls for the creation of a new Oak Hill PreK-2 school to accommodate students from Rosedale, Mount Hope and New River elementary schools by the end of the 2019 school year or later depending on whether the completion of the new school is delayed.

The county’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan was previously approved by the Fayette Board, the State Board and the School Building Authority. The state board approved the amendment to the CEFP in Wednesday as part of the closures and consolidation process.

— Email: alannom@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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