The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 27, 2013

Fayette bond committee meets

By C.V. Moore
Register-Herald Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE — The first full meeting of a steering committee overseeing community input and a bond call for Fayette County Schools took place Friday. Participants discussed the latest developments in a plan aimed at keeping all schools in the county open.

The steering committee’s purpose is to provide input on efforts to determine the feasibility of running a bond in Fayette County that would provide funding to repair and upgrade current community schools.

The idea is to use matching funds from a bond, if it passes, to ask the School Building Authority (SBA) for funds to replace Fayetteville Elementary and Mount Hope Elementary.

Each school in the county has nominated at least three members to a county facility advisory committee, which will have at least one community meeting at their school to discuss and prioritize their facility needs.

They will also come up with a “wish list” of desired improvements for their school, which may or may not be included in the final bond call.

“It could be anything from a new facility to a newly configured facility. That’s their opportunity to ask of us what they want,” said county Superintendent Keith Butcher.

The full 60-member advisory committee is set to meet June 4 at Oak Hill High School to make a recommendation on whether to move forward in preparing a bond to keep all schools open.

“That will determine whether there are any decisions left to be made. There may be nothing left to decide at that point,’ said committee member Paul McClung.

If the people mandate a bond to fix schools and keep them all open, then county schools officials will combine the prioritized lists from each school into a bond call.

There may be a process for communicating the county’s findings before the public votes on a bond, but the committee says it’s too early to tell whether or how this will happen.

“Multiple scenarios could evolve,” said Associate Superintendent Mary Lu MacCorkle, a member of the committee. McClung agreed that the outcome of the process is still “indeterminate.”

County administrators have now visited all 18 schools in the county with an architect, who is putting together a list of critical needs for each school, along with associated costs.

The list will be ready by May 6, when state Superintendent James Phares is scheduled to meet with the county school board and Meadow Bridge residents.

Soon after, at 6 p.m. May 9 at Fayetteville High School, the facility advisory committee will meet with the architect to discuss any questions about the needs lists.

The steering committee has settled on hiring Rainmaker Media Group to undertake a phone survey and focus groups to determine public sentiment before putting the bond out to vote.

They are trying to determine why voters voted the way they did during the last bond call, what kind of bond they would support now, and what their views are on keeping all schools open.

“Our ultimate goal is to find out: Is this feasible? What amount do the citizens feel is feasible?” said Butcher. “Thirty or 35 million might be feasible, but if we ran it higher, the citizens might tell us they don’t want their taxes to go up that much.”

The county’s total bonding capacity is $67 million.

School board members Lou Jones and Dave Arritt were both present for the meeting. A decision was made at the last board meeting for members to attend the steering committee meetings on a rotating basis, rather than choose two to serve.

McClung raised the issue of attorney review of the bond. He was assured that an attorney would review the document thoroughly before it is put before the public. Once a bond is in place, it will be binding and irreversible.

It is possible to add contingencies to the bond, such as a condition that if the bond passes and the SBA doesn’t provide funding to build new schools, then the bond will be null.

The next steering committee meeting will be at 4 p.m. May 9. Members will discuss the facilities review, polling and focus groups, and the work of the advisory committee.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com