The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 6, 2012

Fayette BOE hears presentation

FAYETTEVILLE — On Monday, a state Department of Education representative told the Fayette County Board of Education that the number of high schools in the school system isn’t problematic in and of itself. The question is whether the system can adequately support the number of facilities currently open.

Former Deputy Superintendent of Schools Jack McClanahan made a brief presentation to the board about the steps necessary for state intervention counties to regain local control over their school system. In doing so, he spoke about Fayette’s “tough situation” with facilities.

“It’s not the fact that you have five high schools, but can you offer the curriculum and instruction given the resources you have?” he asked.

According to the Office of Educational Performance Audits 2010 report, which recommended state intervention, Fayette County has more high schools than it can support.

And yet, when the county requested funds from the School Building Authority (SBA) for carrying out the county’s facilities plan, they were denied.

Board member Leon Ivey wondered how the county will be able to regain local control, given the audit’s conclusion and the simultaneous lack of financial support from the SBA. To be eligible for SBA funding without a waiver, high schools must meet an “economies of scale” requirement of 200 students per grade level in high schools, which is larger than most Fayette high schools.

“Without addressing that main issue, it looks like we’re sitting here under state intervention for a long time,” said Ivey.

“I don’t think overall that would keep you out of return to local control,” said McClanahan. “I think what they will look at pretty carefully is ... are your facilities set up in such a way that they are not supporting the instruction you need.”

That’s what the audit report concluded in 2010.

“The secondary curriculum weakness intersects with the facility issues,” it states. “Fayette County has demonstrated an inability to properly maintain their current number of buildings, many of which are substandard and unsuitable to adequately serve students and staff.

“Fayette County has also demonstrated an inability/unwillingness to close any existing schools at the high school and middle school levels despite a promise made to the State Board by the local board president.”

The audit report recommended that the county be placed in intervention status due in large part to student performance and facilities issues.

Board member Dave Arritt added that the board is split on the issue of consolidation.

“I don’t know how it can be worked out,” he said.

McClanahan presented the board with a document outlining the sequence of events that takes a county from local control into intervention status and then back to local control.

The document, “Process and Guidelines for Superintendents and Local Boards under Intervention Status,” is the result of a request from local Board of Education members in intervention counties for clarification on what must be done to regain local control over their schools.

- - -

The board honored the Fayette Institute of Technology Army Junior ROTC Academic Team for their exceptional performance at the JROTC Leadership Symposium and Academic Bowl, where they placed in the top 10 teams from an original pool of 1,583.

Superintendent Keith Butcher read from a letter by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, which described the contest as a “tremendous opportunity to demonstrate leadership and academic strengths of the JROTC program.”

“Fayette County would like to add their congratulations,” said Butcher.

The academic bowl was a multi-stage contest that began online and ended in Washington, D.C., at George Mason University in June, in which the students participated in two days of head-to-head academic competition in math, science, English and social studies.

“They started off competing with ... schools across the world,” said FIT principal Barry Crist. “When you end up with your name on a list with France, Germany, and places like that, I think that takes these guys to a whole new level.”

The team competing at the finals consisted of five cadets: Michael McGraw, Brandon Murdock, Nellie Vickers, Darin Shrewsberry, and Miranda Clark.

The Fayette County cadets received the General George C. Marshall Leadership medals from the General George C. Marshall Foundation, in recognition of their achievement. This award is normally only awarded to a select few outstanding college ROTC cadets.

“This is certainly something to be proud of,” said board member Pat Gray. “You’ve (Fayette Institute of Technology) had quite a few recognitions this year, but I think this is really a wonderful one to share.”

- - -

A special levy election to authorize five years’ worth of additional school funding totaling $46,356,225 will be presented to voters Feb. 9, 2013, Assistant Superintendent Serena Starcher reported.

“This is separate from the bond,” Starcher explained. “This has nothing to do with school closures or consolidations. This is simply continued support for the educational program in Fayette County.”

Starcher reviewed six additional line items in the levy this cycle that will ultimately be up to the state superintendent of schools, Jorea Marple, to approve.

But out of “courtesy and respect for the board,” Starcher explained the line items to board members.

The items include a universal feeding program, which provides free breakfast and lunch for all students and costs $650,000 per year. A universal meal program was piloted last year, but the county was unable to get buy-in from 100 percent of parents, which would have made them eligible for federal reimbursement. Currently, only certain low-income schools are eligible for the free meals, which has led some parents to complain.

Other items include playground equipment ($20,000 per year), student national and state competition support ($25,000), Farm2School and local procurement of farm products ($8,000 per year), athletic bus trip support ($150,000 per year), and additional bus replacement ($20,000 per year).

No line items were eliminated, while some increased and some decreased slightly.

The special levy will not raise taxes.

- - -

Board member Lou Jones expressed her hope that Valley High School can get its own football field next year. The team currently rents a field at West Virginia University Institute of Technology.

She reported that at a recent football game between Valley High School and Midland Trail, the sewer system sprang a leak and “erupted” out on the field, spewing toilet paper and waste. Students voted to continue the game on half of the field.

“No one had a long run, thank goodness,” said Jones.

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