House removes point of school consolidation protection bill

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

West Virginia’s House of Delegates on Wednesday night removed the point of a bill that originally would’ve prevented state Board of Education policy changes from affecting school consolidation processes that have already begun.

The bill (SB 621) said that “after a county board of education provides written notice to the state board that it has taken official action to begin the process of closing or consolidating a school or schools,” any changes to rules regarding school construction, consolidation or closing “shall not be applicable to the school closing or consolidation project described in the county board’s notification.”

In a 53-46 vote with Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, the only delegate not voting, the House approved an amendment that erased the word “not” that’s between “shall” and “be” in that aforementioned sentence.

House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, and the top GOP leaders of the Republican-controlled House voted against the amendment.

Delegate Dana Lynch, a Webster County Democrat whose district includes the Nicholas County city of Richwood, proposed the amendment.

In arguing for the amendment, Lynch and other delegates brought up the situation in Richwood, which was wrecked by the June 2016 flood. The Nicholas County school board now plans to consolidate Richwood’s middle and high schools, which closed following the flood, into a consolidated campus near Summersville, rather than rebuilding them near Richwood.

The bill attracted criticism because it could protect that consolidation plan. The state school board has not yet approved the plan, as it is required to do.

The bill’s sole sponsor was Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas. His engineering consulting firm, G.L. Boso & Associates Inc., has received $126,400 from the Nicholas school board for past projects, according to Nicholas school system administrators. Boso said that amount was paid over about eight to 10 years.

Boso said his firm is also part of two design teams that are vying to work on the board’s proposed consolidated campus, and he’s also performing current work for the Nicholas school system.

But he said the bill wasn’t about personal financial gain, but “to assure the integrity of process that’s laid out within the [state] Constitution, the laws of the state of West Virginia, and the rules that are promulgated as provided for in the state code.”

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