The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 8, 2013

Amendment could cut services to schools in Fayette County

By Cody Neff
Register-Herald Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayette County Board of Education Monday talked about how an amendment to the Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan (CEFP) could end up cutting services to schools in the county.

The amendment will be voted on at the West Virginia State Board of Education meeting Wednesday. If approved, the amendment will remove Meadow Bridge High School from the CEFP for a year. This would give Fayette County board members the time to put together a report that would tell how the school’s closure would affect its students.

“We won’t know exactly how this amendment would affect our overstaffed condition until we determine what our next steps would be,” Superintendent Keith Butcher said. “If this amendment is accepted then we will have to create a new plan of how to move forward with our facilities. At that time we’ll have to submit personnel changes and how those changes would help us with our unreserved balance.

“As you know, our unreserved balance is dropping dramatically. I really can’t answer how the amendment would affect our personnel levels until we see what our next steps would be following the amendment. We might end up having to cut services to other schools until we can get down to appropriate numbers.”

Board member Leon Ivey says the amendment would be a major blow to progress in Fayette County.

“The CEFP is developed in a way that takes the entire county into mind,” Ivey said. “If we pull one school and don’t study the effects for all of the kids then one, It’s not an equal representation of education. We’re not being fair to the students in the rest of the county. And two, we’ve studied it all over time enough to know where we have to be and we’ve made a plan of how to get there. If we pull one school, then it’s basically, ‘How are we going to move forward or pass anything if one student’s not included or every student’s not involved?’

“I’m not sure how the state board determined that over time; we’re able to close other schools. We didn’t study Mount Hope when it closed. We didn’t study Gauley Bridge, but now we’re going to study Meadow Bridge and that’s really set us back. If we pull them out, then everybody in the county loses faith and nothing’s going to get done.   Does the state want us to be taken over forever? Is there a reason that we need to be taken over? We’re trying to get out of it. We’re presenting plans that move forward and they shoot us down at every step. It’s a real blow to the county.”

The West Virginia State Board of Education will vote to approve the CEFP amendment at its meeting in Charleston on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Ivey says if the state board approves the amendment then Fayette County will have a lot of work ahead of itself.

“We’ll have to run some type of plan before the public, which I don’t feel optimistic about passing,” Ivey said. “The other thing is that we’re projected to be $686,000 in debt after this year. What they’re telling me is that we’re going to have to cut staff and service to all schools to keep maintaining the number of buildings that we have and not progress for our children.”

A civil rights complaint was also brought up in Monday’s board meeting.

“Back in 2011, following the closure of Mount Hope High School, a complaint was filed against the school system with the Office of Civil Rights,” associate superintendent Dr. Serena Starcher said. “Basically we had a citizen in FC file a complaint that alleged that we were segregating our black students in Fayette County when we moved our Mount Hope students to Oak Hill and both of those schools had a black population, whereas other schools in the district may not. Last spring, I was made aware that the complaint asked why we didn’t allow Mount Hope students to go to Fayetteville High School, even though it’s a longer bus ride.

“We’ve since had to go back almost 10 years and had to review all of the closures that we’ve completed here in Fayette County. We’ve had to provide race data for every school that we’ve closed and every one that has been left open. It’s very much applied to race.”

Ivey says the state board of education should take responsibility for the complaint since it approved the closure.

“The state board voted to close Mount Hope High School without any study or anything,” Ivey said. “They said, ‘You need to close it? You close it.’ Now that we’re talking about closing a school with 0.44 percent minority population, all of the sudden, we’re going to study to see what’s best for those students. To me, there wasn’t a complaint here until the state board got involved and said, ‘It’s not all right for these kids what we’ve done for every other county in the state and what you’ve done for every other high school in the county.’ It’s suddenly not all right for these kids.

“I think the Office of Civil Rights is going to have a field day with the state board of education. We’re following our CEFP. We can’t help the demographics of our state, but if we’re going to allow the state to change the rules on how we close and consolidate schools for a school that’s 99.56 percent white, I believe they should be a part of Office of Civil Rights complaint.”

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com