State board probes Fayette school bond

By Sarah Plummer REGISTER-HERALD REPORTER Register Herald

CHARLESTON — Although not in a position to take action on the Fayette County Schools bond, the State Board of Education probed details of the proposal at their Wednesday meeting in Charleston.

Board Member Beverly Kingery and Wade Linger asked if the bond includes items not currently in the county Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan.

Earlier during the public comment portion of the meeting, Meadow Bridge resident Carolyn Arritt noted a football field at Valley High School, which is included in the bond, is not listed in the facilities plan.

Fayette Superintendent Dr. Serena Starcher told the board the facilities plan uses vague language, and she would have to look up the exact wording, but she believes the proposed work at Valley falls under the current plan.

After speaking to the board, Starcher referred to the facilities plan and told The Register-Herald it broadly calls for “upgrades” to the existing facility.

The bond sets down upgrading an existing baseball field to serve as a combined football/baseball field.

“For years the school has played using the WVU Tech field, and over the years it has deteriorated,” she explained.

Board Member William White also questioned Starcher’s development of a bond that depends on the School Building Authority funding.

“You are counting on funding you may not get. They sit there and say, ‘I like this project better than that project,’” he said.

In the past, the School Building Authority has awarded three projects to Fayette County contingent on a local match. Those projects fell through when the county could not pass a bond or find local funds.

“We could have held the bond election after the School Building Authority meets in December, but we could be awarded funding and then citizen not pass it,” she told them.

In community meetings, Starcher has explained she developed the bond with School Building Authority staff and believes the county has a high chance of being awarded funds if the bond passes.

Board President Gayle Manchin asked specifics about the proposed Midland Trail High consolidation with Meadow Bridge and Fayetteville highs schools, which would bring the school up to just over 800 students.

Manchin asked Starcher to verify that the proposed three school merger would keep the high school buildings open as middle schools.

Starcher told the board the largest building projects — a new Mount Hope Elementary, renovations at Midland Trail, and a new Collins Middle — were specified by the county Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan as well as addressed issues discovered through recent structural reviews.

She also explained renovations to Oak Hill High School listed in the bond call is work the facilities plan called for when Mount Hope High closed and its students moved into Oak Hill.

She also noted additional classrooms at Fayette Institute of Technology will allow more students to attend. Currently programs are operating at capacity and students are being turned away, she said.

The bond has already been signed by State Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano and filed with the county commission.

Several parents and communities members from Fayette County attended and shared their thoughts on the bond.

Shaunna Cole said, despite a large amount of negativity circulating, there are positive efforts at work in Fayette County, including volunteer work, community meetings and Operation Sunshine, an organization working to offer support and show appreciation to county teachers.

She said she visited Mount Hope Elementary while distributing Easter Eggs from Operation Sunshine, and her visit was both uplifting and heartbreaking.

“The spirit of the students and staff are amazing. One teacher has handprints of children from her class the year before who helped her paint the room. She could see how just a fresh coat of paint uplifted their spirits. Think of what a new facility would do,” she said.

Jason Crouch spoke before the board with his niece, a fifth-grader at Collins who may be displaced twice before she reaches high school.

Shawna Sparks said her nine year-old daughter had a strong reaction to the orange fencing around Collins Middle when they dropped off her son after a doctor’s appointment.

Sparks relayed her daughter’s statement — ‘“I’m not going there.’”

“I told her we were going to make progress. She begged me to fix this. With this bond, I believe we finally have a chance to do this,” she said.

Fayette Board Member Patsy Holliday said she sees the bond as an “educational ark to save our children,” but has concerns that several communities have children being left behind.

“I don’t want the educational ark to turn into a Titanic. I think we can make something work for all our children,” she said, noting problems with county buses breaking down and long bus rides.

Carolyn Arritt stressed Meadow Bridge High School’s status as an isolated school, with $100,000 in Educational Program Allowance funds allocated.

“Isolated and necessary schools serve children who cannot be adequately served by schools in other locations,” she said.

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