Fayette plan could revert to bond version unless SBA reconsiders most recent plan

By Sarah Plummer

REGISTER-HERALDREPORTER

Unless approved by the School Building Authority, Fayette County’s Comprehensive Facilities Plan will revert to a version in place prior to the amendment proposing two high schools.

Fayette Superintendent TerryGeorge dropped off an application requesting funding for a large consolidated high school in Oak Hill Wednesday. SBA Executive Director David Sneed accepted the packet, although the county’s amendment to the Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan must be approved by the authority’s 11-memberboard prior to funding allocations in December. The SBA rejected the amendment at a Sept. 28 meeting.

George plans to submit a letter to the SBA this week asking for the amendment to be considered again at its November meeting, which would allow the project to be considered for funding.

If not approved, the facilities plan will revert to the configuration on which the June bond call was formed, which called for Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge and Midland Trail to combine at the current Midland Trail High School.

Fayette County Prosecutor and County Commission Attorney Larry Harrah has filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the School Building Authority.

Harrah said he has requested the authority’s guidelines, which they are required to develop and adopt under West Virginia State Code; a recording of Monday’s SBA meeting and e-mail communications between SBA members following the State Board of Education’s Sept. 9 decision to approve an amendment to the Fayette County Facilities Plan.

Residents both in favor and against proposed consolidation have spent the week flooding the SBA with phone calls and emails.

School Building Authority member Tom Lange, who made the motion to reject the amendment Monday, has responded to dozens of e-mails, explaining that he wants to see control of the county returned to the local board.

“The state has had 4 different Superintends (sic) in 5 years and the tests scores have decreased dramatically over that time under the direction of the state. If all the employees and their families were registered to vote and supported the bond it, would have pass (sic) easily,” he wrote Thursday. “There are many schools in our state that need dire repair and as a board member who visits many of them I ask a lot of questions. I had concerns that we were being told you had 17 millions (sic) dollars toward the project which just is not true.”

In response to another resident’s email he stated, “My goal and thought process in this matter dealt with forcing the people to take ownership of this situation with financial assistance from the SBA. I have done my research on the finances of the system and Mr George’s numbers are strictly estimates and not readily available dollars.”

The $17 million proposed local match on a high school project was not official until Wednesday. George said he has worked with Sneed and the county’s architectural and engineering firm to identify assets for a lease purchase or CUSIP loan, which could be paid off over an extended period of time.

While George said the county’s firms are confident they will have $17 million to bring to the table, he noted Lange made it clear at Monday’s meeting that he would not support a proposal from Fayette County without a bond passed.

Parent Karen Ellis said, “This is not our state trying to encourage cohesiveness. We can allagree that Fayette County matters, regardless of what side you’re on, and we need help. Education should be equal opportunity, it shouldn’t matter how big of a voting bloc you represent.”

••• Feeling as if state agencies have abandoned them, Fayette County Schools is hoping to gain national attention on social media.

Residents are using Facebook and Twitter to reach out and share information about the Fayette County Schools facilities crises with national media outlets and the U.S. Department of Education.

Kaysi Elkin said parents and concerned citizens are using hashtags #FayetteCountyMatters and #WeStandWith-George to entice others to look closer at what’s going on in the county.

Hashtags are used on social media sites to identify messages on a specific topic and can be used to search for topics.

“We know the more a hashtag is used the quicker it gains trending status. Those hashtags that trend are monitored by national news services,” said Elkin. “We are not getting what we need from local and state levels and we are hoping national pressure could alleviate that. We want our state to make a choice based on what is best for the county, not what is best for a few people or best for themselves.”

Jessica Zukowski said parents have appealed to the local board, appealed to the state and are at a loss as to where to turn.

“We don’t know whereelse to go but up. It has to become a national issue. The conditions these kids go to school in and teachers are forced to teach in are worse than in many underdeveloped nations. At least in many undeveloped countries advocates, groups and organization step in to build schools,” she said.

Zukowski said it is frustrating for a county to be under state control, attempt to pass a bond, gain the support of both the West Virginia Department of Education and the State Board of Education yet the School Building Authority is unwilling to even consider Fayette’s project proposal before rejecting all changes to the facilities plan.

“How can you say you won’t even consider a plan to improve our schools? Now we have to think, ‘OK, What’s the next step.’ We can’t give up. Our kids deserve better. All the kids in the county deserve to be educated and educators deserve better working conditions,” Zukowski said. “What is our future going to look like? Economic development, a prepared workforce, tourism — every issue comes back to the fact that we don’t have decent schools. Our entire county is at a standstill until we deal with the school system.”

Cindy Chamberlin said her hope is that a trending hashtag and attention statewide and nationally could help hold the state accountable.

“The state has had control for five years and has now turned its back on Fayette County,” she said.