SBA says people will have to pick future projects carefully

By Cody Neff Register

MEADOW BRIDGE — The needs of Fayette County’s school system greatly outpace the money coming into the county, officials said Thursday night.

The West Virginia School Building Authority Director of School Planning and Construction Scott Raines met with community members to talk about what the people would like to see out of their school system.

Before people could present what they’d like to see, Ranes brought forward some data that he described as “shocking.”

“We started looking at the data ourselves when the Fayette County Board of Education brought forth a plan to build a school for $60 million,” Raines said. “We looked at the plan and said, ‘Wait a minute. Why would we build one school for $60 million when we can fix every school in the county for about $30 million?’ We realized that something didn’t add up.”

It turns out that the Comprehensive Educational Facilties Plan (CEFP), a document that guides construction, destruction and consolidation in a county, was flawed, Raines said.

“The CEFP said that several schools, such as those in Ansted, Gatewood and Meadow Bridge weren’t supposed to be considered in the needs of the county because they were to be closed,” he said. “They weren’t even looked at as part of that $30 million.

“So we went back and did our own evaluations. We quickly discovered that this was a huge undertaking, to the tune of about $198 million. That is to bring every school in the county up to code.”

The problem is that the SBA doesn’t have that kind of money, Raines said.

“We use a formula to determine how much money can be given,” he said. “For schools that are older than 40 years, which is most of the schools in the county, we can fund up to 60 percent of the project.

“That means that, of the $198 million, We can only give you $162 million toward that goal. You’d have to come up with $38 million on your own.”

The SBA is only provided with a fraction of that each year, and that money has to be shared among the entire state, Raines said.

Once Raines finished with his presentation, he turned it over to the community talk about what they’d like to see out of their schools.

“People have said they would like to see a dedicated special education classroom, continuance of the foreign language courses, local vocational courses and web design courses,” Meadow Bridge High School Principal Stacy White said. “We definitely would like the local vocational courses so that our vocational students can take AP courses and do vocational work without having to travel all the way to Oak Hill.”

Travel was a big issue for Meadow Bridge, according to residents.

“We live challenges every day,” Mistie Richmond said. “We would appreciate if people in the county would put their feet in our shoes. “I’m not a bit surprised by our community banding together lately. We have a right to educate our children together. Those numbers, the scale numbers, we’ll always look bad. We ask you to put your feet in our shoes.”

The “scale numbers” to which Richmond referred are “economies of scale” which tell officials how much of a building is being used.

SBA Executive Director Dan Sneed said lots of people look bad on the economies of scale, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t get funding.

“We funded a school for Pickens for less than 50 kids,” Sneed said. “I wouldn’t get too worried about those numbers because they are just one piece of the big puzzle.”

Meadow Bridge uses about 51 percent of its schools, but officials would like for them to use about 85 percent. That’s 85 students per 100 seats, Sneed said.

One woman said she thinks the Fayette County Board of Education is skewing the data by not allowing Meadow Bridge to be a tri-county school.

“We have kids from Greenbrier and Summers who live about five minutes from the school, but just outside of county lines. Those students aren’t allowed to come to Fayette County by the powers-that-be,” she said.

Fayette County Superintendent there is no malicious conspiracy.

“It’s about funding,” he said. “There are instances where you can’t allow kids under seventh grade into the county because that would mean hiring another teacher. We can’t afford to hire another teacher for two students. That’s just not feasible when they can just go to the county they live in.”

By the end of the meeting, Sneed was explaining that he didn’t have a dog in the fight.

“We’re not here to even consider closing your school,” Sneed said. “We understand that you guys have been dealt a bad hand in the past, but that’s the past. We’re trying to help you guys to have a better future, a future for the whole county.

“We just need you to be patient. You may have five important things to be done, but you might only select the most important one to be funded.”

Sneed explained that the SBA doesn’t close schools. The State Board of Education and local BOEs do.

“We just fund projects,” he said. “We’re just making sure that you guys get a fair shake in the process this time. The process of evaluating schools in the past was flawed. We’re fixing that.”
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