Board approves closing Boone, Roane schools, hears Fayette closure proposal

By Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer

The West Virginia Board of Education approved Wednesday closing three elementary schools in Boone County and one in Roane County, and heard that the superintendent of Fayette County, which it controls, wants to shutter Ansted Middle School.
Wharton Elementary, Nellis Elementary and Jeffrey-Spencer Elementary represent three of Boone’s 10 elementary schools. The local school board previously approved closing them. Superintendent John Hudson said the move is in response to declining enrollment and lower property tax collections. Reedy Elementary will be the Roane school closing at the end of this school year. Its local board also previously approved its closure.

In a presentation to state school board members Wednesday, School Building Authority Executive Director David Sneed mentioned Fayette’s plan to close Ansted if it gets School Building Authority funding. Terry George, the Fayette schools superintendent that state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano appointed to lead that school system, has requested $1 million from the School Building Authority to add classrooms to Midland Trail High School.

George said that would allow the beleaguered Ansted Middle building to be shut down.

On Wednesday morning, the Fayette County Commission had voted unanimously to set aside $15,000 for a possible lawsuit against the state School Building Authority, Fayette Commissioner Matt Wender said.

Wender said that the money would only be used if it could be matched with $15,000 in private funds. He said he hopes the lawsuit isn’t necessary and could be avoided if the county and the School Building Authority — which distributes state general revenue, bond proceeds and lottery money for school construction and renovation projects around West Virginia — could come to an agreement on how to fix issues with Fayette’s school buildings.

“We’re clearly getting passed over year after year, and in my opinion … I’ve not heard anybody make a legitimate claim that any county has a greater need than Fayette County,” Wender said.

He said he’d like to see a consolidation plan that leaves out the closure of Meadow Bridge High, provided that the building is actually safe. Meadow Bridge residents have spoken out against their school’s proposed closure in the past. Some School Building Authority members referenced the issue before their December decision not to fund the plan Wender previously supported, which would have closed the school along with three other high schools and constructed a new one.

Sneed told state school board members Wednesday that his staff has been actively working with their representatives to try to relieve immediate issues in the county.

“We’d like to build a consensus, if possible, at least with the majority of the people in Fayette County on a plan,” Sneed said.

George said that portable classrooms are also being discussed for students displaced from the closure of Collins Middle’s seventh- and eighth-grade building. Due to the structural issues identified at the Collins building, the students are currently being taught at Fayette high schools.

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