SBA to reconsider Fayette school consolidation request

By Samuel Speciale, Education Reporter

The West Virginia School Building Authority will reconsider the Fayette County school system’s request to amend its current building plan, Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Harrah said Thursday.

The request, which was shot down by the SBA last month, will be reconsidered at the authority’s Nov. 9 meeting, according to an agenda filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

Fayette County officials are suing the authority and are represented by Mountain State Justice, a nonprofit Charleston-based law firm that filed the lawsuit in Kanawha County Circuit Court. Fayette County commissioners reportedly pledged to pay the firm $5,000.

“The Fayette County Commission is extremely pleased with the action of the School Building Authority of West Virginia,” Harrah said in a statement. “Addressing the deplorable conditions that exist within the school system of Fayette County must remain a priority so that all children in Fayette County receive an education that is thorough and efficient within a safe environment.”

The school district’s request, presented as an amendment to the county’s comprehensive educational facilities plan, would have combined Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail and Oak Hill high schools into a newly constructed building. It also would have merged or reconfigured several elementary and middle schools, most notably the moving of Collins Middle students from their dilapidated building to the current Oak Hill High.

The request, had the authority approved it, would have allowed Fayette County to compete for project funds with other districts later this year. Fayette County Superintendent Terry George, who was appointed in June by state Superintendent Michael Martirano, has said the county needs $58 million for the new high school.

Authority members denied the request though, saying it lacked local support. In June, voters overwhelmingly defeated a bond that would have generated $38.9 million for the construction of a new Collins Middle School, which was ordered closed in January due to structural issues. The consolidation plan was presented to community members in August, but neither the public or school board voted for it. The plan did receive support from the state Board of Education.

After the request was denied, Fayette school board President Michael Green asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to overturn the decision, but that request was denied. In denying the request, Tomblin’s office said the authority upheld its constitutional duty to reject budget amendments that are not feasible.

A Fayette County commissioner said last month that the authority’s decision to deny the request and Tomblin’s refusal to reverse it violate the Recht decision, a 1982 landmark education case that restructured education in West Virginia by requiring equitable funding among county school systems.

The authority will meet Nov. 9 at its headquarters in Charleston.

Reach Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939 or follow @samueljspeciale on Twitter.