The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

June 19, 2013

Fayette chamber supports school improvement

FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce has offered its support to the county Board of Education for improving schools, citing the negative economic impacts of an underperforming school system.

On Tuesday evening, the board heard from Margaret O’Neal, who chairs a new Chamber subcommittee on education and directs the United Way of Southern West Virginia.

“We are looking for your guidance and support. We need you to share with us how we can best support the most positive action for the education of children in this county,” she told board members.

The United Way and the Chamber plan to join together to host several opportunities for Fayette Countians to come together and discuss solutions for the school system’s problems.

“We’re going to pay for it, promote it, and it will be welcome and open to all. (...) Please come to the meetings, bring information, and ask questions,” O’Neal said.

The involvement of a variety of people — parents, older people and everyone in between — is needed, she said. The issue is county-wide and should be addressed with a unified front.

“We’re not antagonistic or out here to do harm. We are here to do good and plead with you to consider the entire county and every child in it,” said O’Neal.

Board Member Leon Ivey was happy to hear of the Chamber’s desire to get involved.

“I’m glad people are getting involved and saying enough is enough,” he said. “Somebody is going to have to start speaking up and saying,  

‘We’re not happy with the status quo.’”

O’Neal says the Chamber started paying closer attention to the education issue because it has become an economic issue in the county.

“We know businesses are not locating here at all because they do not want their staffs’ families to be educated here. The bottom line i that the only way this county is going to grow and succeed and prosper is for us to start down here and fix this system,” said O’Neal.

“Somewhere it got broken. But a group of people on a mission determined to fix it can fix it.”

The West Virginia State Department of Education took over the county system in 2010, citing low student achievement and facilities issues.

Fayette County recently underwent a public input process aimed at finding a way forward for the county’s aging infrastructure.

In the end, a county facilities committee voted not to maintain and repair all of the county’s school buildings. Instead, the county will look back to its Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP), which calls for some consolidation.

The estimated cost of implementing the CEFP rests at $136 million.

O’Neal says the condition of school buildings is not the only important issue, but that the poor condition “reflects the education  

of the children.”

The group also recently addressed the WV Board of Education about the matter.

— Email: cmoore@register-herald.com

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