West Virginia BOE president defends Nicholas county school plan rejection

By Shauna Johnson in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The City of Richwood in Nicholas County may or may not see two of its public schools rebuilt in the end, but the president of the West Virginia Board of Education said it’s a possibility BOE members and others want time to fully explore.

“I don’t know what the result will be,” Board President Tom Campbell said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the state BOE voted 7-1 to reject the Nicholas County Board of Education’s initial proposal to consolidate five schools into one middle school and one high school in new facilities to be located near Summersville in the wake of the June 2016 Flood.

The vote came at end of a long, often emotional meeting in Charleston.

The affected schools include Richwood Middle School, Richwood High School and Summersville Middle School which were all destroyed in flooding nearly a year ago along with the undamaged Nicholas County High and the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center.

The Nicholas County Board of Education unanimously approved the consolidation plan earlier this year, but Campbell said there may be a better way with multiple other pathways to new schools.

He referred to a possible alternative plan for the potential rebuilding of Summersville Middle, Richwood High and Richwood Middle within their communities as “Plan B” during an appearance on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The question, Campbell said, is this: Will “Plan B” work?

“Maybe ‘Plan B’ is looked at by the School Building Authority and by the Nicholas County Board and they come back and say, ‘It just won’t work.’ Then we probably don’t have much choice (to avoid consolidation), but the information we had was it really had not been explored,” he told Hoppy Kercheval.

A request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a six month extension, allowing time for additional review, is pending. The original deadline had been June 25.

FEMA will fund replacement schools for those that sustained extensive flood damage. “Plan B” would utilize FEMA funding in different ways.

“Dealing with FEMA is not a simple thing,” Campbell said. “The method that allows for the schools to stay in place is actually the same method Kanawha County is using.”

The schools flooded in Kanawha County last June were Clendenin Elementary School and Herbert Hoover High School.

Members of the Nicholas County Board of Education have argued that, beyond flood damage, declining student enrollment during the past 25 years is a major consideration for consolidation.

“Our philosophy in West Virginia, for a long time, has been if we can consolidate, we do it. I mean, that’s just it. That’s our culture,” Campbell said in response to that argument.

“I’m going to defend the Nicholas County Board to a great degree (for their initial proposal). I think they did what we’ve always done over the last three decades. I do not fault the Nicholas County Board.”

Going forward, Campbell said the state BOE will be looking at the underlying reasons for the initial consolidation proposal along with the pros and cons of large-scale rural consolidation.

A special meeting for the Nicholas County Board of Education was scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in Summersville.

WV BOE rejects plan to consolidate Nicholas schools

Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer

The West Virginia Board of Education voted Tuesday to reject the Nicholas County school board’s proposal to consolidate five schools in Richwood, Summersville and Craigsville onto one campus near Summersville.

The vote came after a surprise public presentation from a state School Building Authority official and the state schools superintendent on a general alternative plan that would use differently the flood-recovery money that Nicholas expects to receive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The problem is, I think in West Virginia, it’s time to look at alternatives other than consolidation,” state board President Tom Campbell said.

Jim Wilson was the only state board member heard voting no in the voice vote to shoot down the plan. Joseph Wallace, an Elkins-based attorney, was the only one of the nine voting members absent.

The vote, before a crowd of about 100 people in the state board meeting room in Charleston, came after people on the side favoring rebuilding schools in the Richwood area and people on the pro-consolidated-campus side were each given about 65 minutes to speak.

Then came more than two additional hours that included state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine calling Scott Raines, the SBA’s director of school planning and construction, to the lectern to reveal — for the first time publicly — a plan to instead create a consolidated Richwood Middle/Richwood High and a consolidated Summersville Middle/Nicholas County High.

Raines said the latter consolidation also could include the county’s vocational education center.
He said he’d previously discussed the plan only with Paine and SBA Executive Director Frank “Bucky” Blackwell. Raines said Blackwell told him in mid-to-late April that’d it be good to look at alternatives to the Nicholas board’s plan. Raines said he and Blackwell then presented the alternative to Paine around April or May.

“I’m just thinking that this could be a win-win, and I don’t think that plan has ever been shared with anybody,” Paine said.

“The SBA is not lobbying for one plan or the other,” Raines said. He told the Gazette-Mail that the alternative plan doesn’t include any identified sites for the proposed consolidated schools.

Wilson said the plan was brought up at the “last minute.”

“I’m sure this board has done their due diligence,” Wilson said of the Nicholas board. “I’m sure they have looked at the alternatives. I myself may have done something different had I been sitting on their board, but I live in Marshall County and I’m four hours away from Nicholas County. I cannot put myself in their place, and I don’t feel it’s fair.”

Department of Education General Counsel Heather Hutchens said a court ruling on a past consolidation established that the state board has constitutional authority to make final decisions regarding school closures and consolidations.

“So, today, you have two options,” Hutchens told the state board members, most of whom weren’t on the board in January.

“One option is to approve the request of the Nicholas County Board of Education and approve the CEFP (comprehensive educational facilities plan) amendment and closures and consolidations that have been presented to you,” Hutchens said. “The other is to reject that request and, if the board does determine that the request will be rejected, then the board will need to articulate a reason why. The standard upon legal review will be whether or not this body acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.”

Hutchens didn’t mention the third option — of tabling action on the Nicholas school board’s plan until another time. Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the state board took up the issue.

“A tabling is not a decision, a tabling is a delay, so they only did have an opportunity for two decisions: To approve or reject,” Hutchens told the Gazette-Mail after the meeting.

State board Vice President Dave Perry made the motion to reject the consolidation plan.
“Because I believe sufficient alternatives and possibilities have not been explored to be assured this plan is in the best interest of the students of Nicholas County, and specifically of those in the current Richwood Middle and Richwood High School areas,” Perry said as part of his successful motion to deny the plan.

Cheers and clapping rose up after the vote.

Six of the nine state board members — Wilson not among them — are appointees of Gov. Jim Justice, who had expressed opposition to the consolidation. Justice also appointed Blackwell. The Legislature confirmed the appointees.

But Justice spokesman Grant Herring wrote in an email Friday that, “Governor Justice has said all along that he won’t interfere with the decision and has not contacted any board of education members to discuss next week’s vote.”

“That was kind of a setup, wasn’t it,” Nicholas school board member Phil Berry said during his trip down the elevator with other Nicholas school officials after the vote.

It was unclear Tuesday what the Nicholas board will now decide to do. All five members of the county board voted for the plan that the state board shot down.

Nicholas board member Darrell White said the county board hasn’t decided if it will take legal action. Nicholas Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick said there’s a board meeting set for tonight.

“We’re just tickled to death that our voices finally got heard,” Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber said, “and that we can take a look at other options that might be beneficial, ultimately, for not just Richwood but for all of Nicholas County and the state of West Virginia.”

Three Nicholas public schools — Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle — were closed because of last June’s massive floods.

The Nicholas board proposed using FEMA flood-recovery money to build the consolidated campus, rather than using that money to rebuild the destroyed schools.

Although students of the three schools had been learning in different locations this school year, those three schools still legally exist as distinct entities, so the state board had to sign off on their closings for Nicholas to build its consolidated campus.

Some officials had expressed concern about not getting the state board’s approval on the consolidation before a FEMA deadline, set for one year after the June 23 floods.

FEMA spokesman Will Powell has said, “The deadline for the submission of scopes of work and project estimates is June 25, 2017, which is a year from the presidential disaster declaration.” He also said that “extensions can be granted.”

Paine said Tuesday that West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Jimmy Gianato seemed confident that there will be a six-month extension allowed to receive FEMA money for a plan like the one Raines presented.

The Nicholas board’s proposed consolidated campus, at the Glade Creek Business Park, would merge Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle with two schools that didn’t close because of floods: Nicholas County High, in Summersville, and the county’s vocational education center, in Craigsville.

The Glade Creek Business Park is about 40 minutes from the Richwood schools. The consolidated campus was planned to include one middle school and one high school. They would be Nicholas’ only middle and high schools. The high school would incorporate the county’s vocational education.

Richwood would be left with one school: Cherry River Elementary.

Tuesday’s meeting featured state board members questioning Richwood officials over the cost of the Glade Creek site. Burge-Tetrick said the consolidated school would require 80 acres there, and state board member Debra Sullivan said the property was being promoted online by an agency at a cost of $50,000 per acre.

“As far as the property, if FEMA turns it down and says we’ll only give you a portion, well then we’re back to saying we need to figure out something else,” Burge-Tetrick replied. She said she’s talked to “an individual” and was told she could expect roughly a $2 million to $3 million price. She didn’t name that individual.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

State BOE rejects Nicholas County school consolidation plan

By Carrie Hodousek in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Board of Education voted Tuesday to reject a plan to consolidate five schools in Nicholas County.

The 7-1 vote came in a packed room of about 100 people at the BOE’s meeting room in Charleston after the board heard hours of public comments from those for and against the plan.

The plan includes consolidating Nicholas County High, Richwood High and the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center into one high school. Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle would merge into one middle school.

Those newly constructed schools would open by the 2020-2021 school year, according to the plan.

The move came after three schools — Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle — were destroyed in the June 2016 flood.

The Nicholas County Board of Education approved the consolidation earlier this year.

Nicholas County School Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick proposed the plan to the county school board in January. She said the move was needed because of declining student enrollment and damage caused by the flood.

It was an emotional meeting Tuesday as residents spoke out against the consolidation.

Kendra Amick, a 2017 Richwood High graduate, told board members to keep students in mind before making a decision.

“Think about all of us kids and when you vote today, put your pen to paper for students like me. Vote for me. Vote for kids in Richwood who need that personalized experience,” Amick said.

Nikki Taylor, of Craigsville, was also thinking about how the consolidation would impact students’ lives. As parent of two students at Richwood High — and a Richwood High graduate herself — she said the benefit of attending a small school is priceless.

“In most places, you may not see the symbiotic relationship between the schools and the community, but in Richwood, that’s what we have. You can’t put a price tag on that,” she said.

Taylor also expressed concern about students who won’t be able to participate in sports and activities because of the increased student population at a consolidated school.

“To consolidate means to remove half the student body from participating in extra curricular activities and we can all remember how important that was when we were in school. Being a part of a team teaches a whole lot more than just a sport. I would hate to see so many kids lose out on that opportunity,” Taylor said.

Consolidation supporters included members of the Nicholas County BOE. Board President Gus Penix said merging schools makes sense because of the low student enrollment.

“We’ve been declining enrollment at a rate of 1.09 percent per year for the last 25 years. We’ve lost 1,400 students,” he said.

Penix said the idea of consolidation was addressed even before the June flood.

“Even if the flood had not occurred last year, the Nicholas County Board of Education would’ve been considering consolidation of schools in the very near future,” he said.

Fred Amick, vice president of the Nicholas school board, tried to encourage state board members that if a consolidation were to happen, it would be a smooth transition.

“There are great people in Nicholas County — Richwood and Summersville — they will help each other. I want you all to realize that,” he said.

The WV BOE’s vote came after multiple alternative plans were presented Tuesday. One of those plans came from Scott Raines, director of school planning and construction for the state School Building Authority. Raines proposed consolidating Richwood Middle and Richwood High into one school and merging Summersville Middle and Nicholas County High into a separate school.

School officials were concerned about not getting approval on the consolidation from the state BOE before the FEMA deadline, but state School Superintendent Steven Payne said the state asked FEMA for a six month extension to figure out the Nicholas schools issue. He said he expects the extension to be approved.

It’s unknown what the Nicholas County school board will do. The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday night.

Senate confirms Justice nominations for state BOE, others

By Jeff Jenkins in News

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate voted Tuesday to confirm 28 executive nominations made by Gov. Jim Justice to various boards and commissions.

The confirmations include two new members of the state Board of Education; retired Charleston Catholic High School Principal Debra Sullivan and Elkins resident Joseph Wallace. Sullivan’s term ends in November 2025, Wallace’s in November 2024. The two are expected to participate in the state Board’s monthly meeting scheduled to begin Wednesday afternoon.

Elmer Coppoolse, of Bethesda, Md., was confirmed for a seat on the WVU Board of Governors with term ending June 30, 2018.

The Senate also confirmed four members to the Council for Community and Technical College Education including a three-year appointment for former Mingo County Delegate Harry Keith White.

Former state Senator Jack Yost (D-Brooke) is the newest member of the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review. His term stretches until Jan. 1, 2023.

The confirmations were approved on a 30-0 vote. There were four senators absent.