The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 31, 2013

BOE has not decided Stratton’s fate; seeks parents’ input

BECKLEY — Parents and residents in the Stratton Elementary School district reacted strongly Wednesday to a preliminary report by a local subcommittee that suggested the school be closed and merged with Beckley Elementary.

But Raleigh County Schools Superintendent Jim Brown said it is too early in the process for Raleigh County Board of Education members to begin officially considering the matter.

Brown added that he and BOE members encourage input from Stratton parents.

The preliminary recommendations, or suggestions, were made at the Raleigh County Convention Center on Tuesday at a special BOE hearing, by a member of a subcommittee that had been appointed by Brown at board members’ request in September.

Initial suggestions by subcommittee members included busing Stratton students to an expanded Beckley Elementary facility.

The statements were opposed at the Tuesday meeting by Raleigh schools gifted teacher Dottie Bowman.

Several members of the Stratton community who did not attend the Tuesday meeting voiced their opposition to the suggestion Wednesday.

Judy Patterson, 56, who lives on Spangler Street, said her seven-year-old grandson, Isaiah, is an honor student at Stratton and is being tested for the gifted program.

Patterson said she’d heard “rumors” earlier in the week from Stratton teachers that some school officials wanted to close the historic facility, which is located in a racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood.

“It saddens me that they (board members) did not ask anybody in the community,” said Patterson. “They sent no notice, no word of the possibility of this happening from the board office. It is just appalling, and we don’t want it.”

Patterson said she’s spoken to several parents and religious leaders in the Stratton community who are upset by  the possibility that Stratton would be closed.

“It is one of the last historically black schools in the whole of Raleigh County,” she noted, adding that some Stratton parents are concerned race may be playing a role in the suggestion that the school be closed.

 Stratton parents want their kids to go to school in their own neighborhood, according to Patterson. Shifting Stratton schoolchildren to another school “would be devastating for our children and our community.”

Bishop Bob Tunstalle of Temple of Deliverance on Deegans Street said a local school is necessary for a sense of community in any neighborhood.

“Stratton’s part of the Beckley community,” he said. “To close it would be a tremendous blow to the black community, in particular, because that’s the area it’s situated in.

“It would be ending the last vestige or semblance of any identity that the black community has in the educational process,” he said. “I greatly disagree with closing it, as (do) many other black citizens in this city.”

Tunstalle and Patterson pointed out that Stratton is a state-of-the-art facility, with recent upgrades, a $100,000 workout room, a playground, a community garden and that the building is utilized by the community throughout the year.

“It serves a lot of folks and not just black people,” he added. “We’re not living in the time of segregation, it serves everybody.

“There are white teachers, as well as black teachers,” he added. “But in particular, we have an attachment to it as being part of our heritage, and part of our history.”

He said voters in the Stratton school district would be unlikely to support any measure that would eliminate the jobs of the teachers and staff and force children to be bused to another community.

“We will be like the Republicans in Congress,” he said. “I hate to put it that way because I never thought I’d be a Tea Party person, but I’m a Tea Partier on the issue. We will mobilize and vote against the bond, and we will let them know that.”

The original subcommittee suggestions also include combining Soak Creek, Sophia and Crab Orchard elementary schools into one school and combining Mabscott and Hollywood elementary schools into one site.

No mention was made Tuesday of which facilities would house those combined schools.

Patterson said she has always  voted for levies and bonds that “help, not hurt, anybody’s child or teacher.”

“I take this very personally,” she said. “These children are gifted, and they are talented. They most certainly, like these other communities that they are saying they want to consolidate ... these children are worth it.”

The bond call, which BOE President Rick Snuffer predicted to be set at around $20 million or $30 million, will be spent exclusively on school buildings.

Superintendent Brown said the final bond report has not been presented to the BOE and that the possibility of sending Stratton students to Beckley is only a suggestion that was raised during subcommittee deliberations.

“There is no decision made regarding what would happen, as far as closure of any school,” he said. “Right now, there’s a lot of preliminary work going into this process, but some of this is very, very, very premature.”

To gain an understanding of what is needed in the Raleigh school buildings, BOE members had contracted Silling and Associates, a contracting firm, and PCS to do a comprehensive review of the facilities.

The contractors reported that updating each county school facility to the highest standard would take more than $120 million — a figure Brown had emphasized earlier as being impossible to place on a bond call.

BOE members directed Brown to put together a bond subcommittee to review the findings of the contractors and to develop a 10-year facilities plan.

“That group is actually facilitating how do we begin looking at the scope of works, projects and priorities,” he said. “Ultimately, they will report back to the board.”

The bond subcommittee will issue its final report at the regular BOE meeting Nov. 12.

Board members will then vote on the final recommendations.

Brown invited any interested resident to show up at the Nov. 12 meeting at Munson Hall in the Raleigh Schools central office at 5:30 p.m. to speak for or against the recommendations, adding he was “surprised” that only a few people showed up at two public meetings held earlier this month, including the Tuesday meeting.

He added that he had appointed two Stratton parents to one of the subcommittees.

“It’s important that people take advantage of the opportunity to convey the message they want the board to consider,” he said. “If they have something they feel is a pressing need, I would hope they would take the opportunity to come to one of those meetings and express that.”

—  E-mail: jfarrish@register-herald.com

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