The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 25, 2013

Fayette group opposes school improvement bond

By C.V. Moore
Register-Herald Reporter

ANSTED — Their showing was small, but their voice was united.

Six parents and community members who met Thursday evening at Ansted Middle School strongly rejected the current proposal to run a bond to keep all schools open by addressing their current critical needs.

Instead, they say schools should be consolidated and kids should be provided with new facilities to better deliver a richer curriculum.

“I hated the fact that they closed Nuttall (Middle School) because I graduated from Nuttall, but it’s better for our kids,” said Mike Jones. “Our kids are getting left behind.”

“I don’t even want this bond to go for a vote,” said Cindy Beeson. “I think we’ve asked people for too long to pay more for a bad product.”

“To me we’ve been fighting this for a long time and it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Greg Kump.

Ansted Middle’s was the last scheduled meeting to gain school-level input on school facilities across the county. It wraps up a two-week process during which community members ranked their list of school needs in order of importance and gave opinions on the feasibility of running a bond to keep all schools open.

All the information will be taken back to a 60-member facilities advisory committee, which will make a final recommendation about a path forward for Fayette County. Deferred maintenance has brought the county’s buildings to a critical state of disrepair, which would require $136 million to fully address.

Jason Crouch, co-president of the Fayette County Education Association teachers’ union and a teacher at Ansted Middle, said the bond measure would be a “highly irresponsible use of funds.” He was careful to say he was not officially speaking for the union, which has neither made an official statement nor polled its ranks on the issue.

An architect has identified $2.2 million in critical building needs at Ansted Middle and strongly encourages an additional $3.8 million in upgrades, which include a safe schools entrance and ADA compliance.

“Everything on the recommended list should be done,” said Kump.

Attendees were asked to rank the list of recommended needs, which are not absolutely necessary to continue operation but strongly encouraged by an architect.

Kump called it “an exercise in futility” and refused to rank his list.

“My answer is ‘no,’” he said.

On their “wish list,” the group put down countywide consolidation, improved curriculum, and a new building.

The school was built in 1956; its latest addition came in 1980. It is “middle-aged” by Fayette County standards.

With 249 students, Ansted Middle is running at 72 percent utilization. The school received about 60 students from Nuttall Middle when it closed, according to Crouch. Currently all teachers have their own classroom.

Only 31 percent of its students demonstrate proficiency in math, according to standardized tests, ranking it near the bottom of middle schools across the state. Its language arts scores are better but still below state average.

The group hopes that consolidation would give students access to better qualified teachers, save money to be spent on curriculum, and give the county a better shot at receiving funding from the School Building Authority, which evaluates building projects based on efficiency.

Though he believes that elementary school students should be kept close to home, Kump pointed out that the state’s best high schools are all consolidated schools.

The current Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan for the county calls for relocating Ansted Middle students to the Fayetteville High School building as a consolidated middle school. But attendees at the meeting said they wanted both consolidation and a new building.

Implementing the current CEFP would cost about the same as bringing all the county’s 18 school buildings back from the brink. It would build no new high schools, but includes two new elementary schools.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com