Despite dissent, Fayette BOE passes resolution to support facilities plan

By Sarah Plummer Register-Herald Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE — In a room tense with exasperated sighs, whispers and head shaking, the Fayette County Board of Education voted Monday to pass a resolution to support proposed changes to the Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan.

The resolution stated, “The Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan amendment submitted to both the State Board of Education and the School Building Authority will correct the majority of the facility issues that exist in the county. Our students deserve the opportunity to go to school in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.”

The plan was developed by the School Building Authority (SBA) after a 54-member capitol planning committee established goals and criteria for the reconfiguring, like preferred school size and bus times.
The resolution passed 4-1.

Board President Steve Bush made the motion to support and sign the resolution, and it was seconded by Steve Slockett. Bush called for a vote and immediately cast his own vote in favor of the measure.

After a moment of silence, Slockett make the sign of the cross and cast an affirmative voice vote followed by Pat Gray and Darrin McGuffin.

When calling for those opposed to the resolution, Patsy Holliday offered a strong “Me.”

“I’m amazed we are even here this morning to address this pathetic Fayette County plan,” she said.

Holliday said SBA officials told community members they would not close schools, and the 54-member committee did not come up with the plan.

She voiced strong opposition for students in outlying community high schools slated to attend neighboring counties.

“With Midland Trail being right down the highway from Nicholas County and Oak Hill and Collins a skip and a jump from Raleigh County, why have any schools at all? Well, I would not support letting them be disposable students either. Let me not leave out Fayetteville, which has always been thrown under the bus. Whatever board members vote for this plan, shame on you,” she continued, concluding that the plans purpose is “discarding the students they see as dead weight.”

McGuffin said the proposed plan is the most comprehensive the county has had since the last bond passed in 1973. It directly effects all school configuration except Gauley Bridge Elementary.

“When it comes down to it, we cannot force our educators to go to Valley High School currently, and we are putting students out in the public that have a hard time counting change at a cash register to even work a minimum wage job,” he said. “We have to make some changes. When it comes to my decision, I base it on the education the students are receiving,” he said.

Slockett noted that Fayette County Schools were ranked 54 of 55 counties in the state for academics at the end of 2015, and they have worked hard to bring that ranking up to 47.

“Do I 100 percent like the particulars of the plan? Absolutely not, but every student in Fayette County will be better off when this plan is fully implemented. They will be better prepared for college, technical college or career ready,” he said.

Gray said every decision made creating the plan was fact-based.
“Although this is not the plan I would have devised … with what we are facing together, I have no choice but to support this plan,” he said.

Around 15 parents, community members and teachers attended the meeting. Most represented the Valley attendance area — where high school students are slated to attend Riverside High in Kanawha County — and most were not in support of the proposed plan.

“It’s a money game,” said former board member Lou Jones. “How can you justify throwing kids away?”

Valley High head football coach Larry McCommack said the community is just finishing building the school’s first football field.

“I want what’s best for all kids in the county, and this plan is not it,” he said.

He said education at Valley could be improved, but the school is not making use of its distance learning lab, which could provide certified teachers for areas like math, where the school is lacking.

He also noted that one long-time math teacher is about to attain her math certification.

The facilities plan amendment must be approved by the State Board of Education at their Sept. 7 meeting before the district can submit a capital improvement project application to the SBA in October.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com