County administration sidelined
Phares moved to his current position from a post as superintendent of Randolph County, home of the smallest public school in West Virginia, Pickens School, which has a K-12 enrollment of 37.
He says a small community school model can and has been successful in some places.
“You have to do some things differently, but the model can work,” he says.
Randolph County, the largest county in the state by area, ran 19 schools under his tenure. An excess levy helped support that many facilities in a depopulating county.
Last November, citizens were called to vote on a bond that would keep all those schools open, contingent on a match from the SBA.
The bond failed, and Phares says he believes some of the county’s schools will close as a result.
Phares says he first met Arritt last December, before he became state superintendent, at a meeting in Hamlin where she made a presentation. He subsequently met her at two board meetings. She, McClung and a teacher asked for a meeting at the state board office, which they had Feb. 11.
“We talked and I asked if they had approached local folks about their plan for a grassroots movement,” says Phares.
“Plans were set forward at that meeting for us to move forward with a grassroots effort involving the entirety of Fayette County,” says McClung.
Arritt spoke about the plan at the podium of last week’s county board of education meeting.
But confusingly, Associate Superintendent Serena Starcher followed that with a presentation of the current CEFP, calling for consolidation.
The contradiction in messaging underscores the extent to which the state and private citizens were working separately from the central office administration.
Butcher had planned to have a series of community meetings throughout the county in April to discuss facilities, but those are now postponed.
“It began to look like that was going to falter at a local level,” says McClung, so Tuesday’s meeting among all parties was arranged.
The previous week, Butcher and staff members requested a meeting with Phares to discuss the new direction that Arritt presented, the CEFP, and school closures.
“I said, ‘You’ve got a committee out there that’s forming that wants to look at that.’ I said, ‘Would you be willing to meet with them?’ and they said yes,” says Phares.