The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 13, 2013

Parents upset with plans for Gatewood, Fayetteville schools

Fayette superintendent: State BOE will vote how to move forward

By Cody Neff
Register-Herald Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE — Parents of Gatewood Elementary, Fayetteville Elementary, and Fayetteville High School gathered in the high school’s auditorium Thursday to tell board officials that the quality of their kids’ education, their health, and their futures are at stake if the plan for the schools goes through.

According to the closure documents for the schools, Gatewood Elementary students would go to Fayetteville Elementary School. Fayetteville Elementary School would go from a PreK-6 to a K-5. The sixth grade at Fayetteville Elementary School would move to Fayetteville High School. Fayetteville High would be changed from a 7-12 high school to a 6-12 high school.

One parent said a study from the health department has her worried about children’s health.

“I’m the proud parent of two children that attend Gatewood and one more that will hopefully attend Gatewood in the future,” Shaunna Cole said. “My son’s occupational therapy services were decreased last year. I don’t understand why we need two assistant superintendents but we can’t even afford OT services for our special needs children.

“I believe we can find other ways to cut down expenses other than cramming our children in an unsuitable building and placing our sixth-graders in a high school that ranks high in the state for rates of teen pregnancy. The health department has said that mold exists in Fayetteville Elementary. My son has asthma and is allergic to all mold, so as you can imagine, this is a great concern for me as a mother, not only for my son, but for my daughter and all students.”

Superintendent Keith Butcher said there was a time when mold was found in the school, but the study online is a few years old and all of the mold has been cleaned up since then.

Another parent said he felt like the consolidation would cause more harm than help.

“Tonight I’m here speaking on behalf of the town of Fayetteville and the town feels that this proposal will adversely affect the youngest children in our community and doesn’t improve the education of the children or opportunities for the youngest children in our community,” Bill Lanham said. “When we look at this proposal and you need to cut $2 million to balance your budget, then something isn’t going to work right.

“I would encourage our state board to give our children the best opportunities. Right now the youngest children are not getting a fair shake. We want the youngest children to get a fair shake and to get a fair shake from Fayette County. As Frederick Douglass said, ‘It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’”

One parent said she has run the numbers and can’t see any good reason to go on with the plan.

“I'm the proud parent of a Gatewood second-grader and the head of the PTO,” Betty Miller said. “I can say with certainty that if our children would go to FES, they would fall through the cracks. As a parent I refuse to let my child receive an inferior education.

“There is no evidence that consolidation will save money. Also the number of front-end costs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are no confirmed benefits, but there are lots of problems created. Consolidation studies don’t factor in parent participation or community support. Oh, and will Gatewood get the one-year study? If not, we’re being discriminated against.”

The one-year study Miller brought up was mentioned by other parents too. They are talking about the State Board of Education voting to remove Meadow Bridge High School from the Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan for one year while the board studies how to best serve the students and families of the high school.

Butcher said he can’t give anyone the year study.

“We didn’t give Meadow Bridge the one-year study. It was the State Board of Education’s decision to remove Meadow Bridge from the CEFP for one year. We don’t have the power to make decisions like that; only they do.”

Butcher said this isn’t the first time Gatewood was looked at for closure.

“I do need to tell you some of the rationale,” he said. “There has been a decreasing trend in Fayette County in population, so this means the student population in Fayette County is declining. The difference between last year’s enrollment and this year’s enrollment is 56 students. That would equate to three professional and two service positions in the money that we receive from the county. It requires that we look at reductions within the county.

“The utilization of facilities across Fayette County does need to be improved. We have some of our facilities that are operating at capacity and some facilities that are operating at less than capacity. We need to consider that in our discussions.”

In order to keep the county out of the red, Butcher said the county is doing everything it can to keep its head above water.

“Between this year and next year, Fayette County’s budget will need to be reduced by about $2 million,” he said. “The closure of Gatewood facilitates a savings of $800,000 and moves us to the goal of balancing our budget for next year.

“I agree that it would be preferable to move these students into a new building, but without a bond to be able to do that we must make the steps that we can take now to balance the county budget.”

Once the speeches from the hearing have been typed up, they’ll be taken to the state board members, who will then vote on how to move forward. The decision will have to be made by the end of December if it will take effect for the next year.

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com