State BOE rejects Nicholas County school consolidation plan

By Carrie Hodousek in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Board of Education voted Tuesday to reject a plan to consolidate five schools in Nicholas County.

The 7-1 vote came in a packed room of about 100 people at the BOE’s meeting room in Charleston after the board heard hours of public comments from those for and against the plan.

The plan includes consolidating Nicholas County High, Richwood High and the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center into one high school. Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle would merge into one middle school.

Those newly constructed schools would open by the 2020-2021 school year, according to the plan.

The move came after three schools — Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle — were destroyed in the June 2016 flood.

The Nicholas County Board of Education approved the consolidation earlier this year.

Nicholas County School Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick proposed the plan to the county school board in January. She said the move was needed because of declining student enrollment and damage caused by the flood.

It was an emotional meeting Tuesday as residents spoke out against the consolidation.

Kendra Amick, a 2017 Richwood High graduate, told board members to keep students in mind before making a decision.

“Think about all of us kids and when you vote today, put your pen to paper for students like me. Vote for me. Vote for kids in Richwood who need that personalized experience,” Amick said.

Nikki Taylor, of Craigsville, was also thinking about how the consolidation would impact students’ lives. As parent of two students at Richwood High — and a Richwood High graduate herself — she said the benefit of attending a small school is priceless.

“In most places, you may not see the symbiotic relationship between the schools and the community, but in Richwood, that’s what we have. You can’t put a price tag on that,” she said.

Taylor also expressed concern about students who won’t be able to participate in sports and activities because of the increased student population at a consolidated school.

“To consolidate means to remove half the student body from participating in extra curricular activities and we can all remember how important that was when we were in school. Being a part of a team teaches a whole lot more than just a sport. I would hate to see so many kids lose out on that opportunity,” Taylor said.

Consolidation supporters included members of the Nicholas County BOE. Board President Gus Penix said merging schools makes sense because of the low student enrollment.

“We’ve been declining enrollment at a rate of 1.09 percent per year for the last 25 years. We’ve lost 1,400 students,” he said.

Penix said the idea of consolidation was addressed even before the June flood.

“Even if the flood had not occurred last year, the Nicholas County Board of Education would’ve been considering consolidation of schools in the very near future,” he said.

Fred Amick, vice president of the Nicholas school board, tried to encourage state board members that if a consolidation were to happen, it would be a smooth transition.

“There are great people in Nicholas County — Richwood and Summersville — they will help each other. I want you all to realize that,” he said.

The WV BOE’s vote came after multiple alternative plans were presented Tuesday. One of those plans came from Scott Raines, director of school planning and construction for the state School Building Authority. Raines proposed consolidating Richwood Middle and Richwood High into one school and merging Summersville Middle and Nicholas County High into a separate school.

School officials were concerned about not getting approval on the consolidation from the state BOE before the FEMA deadline, but state School Superintendent Steven Payne said the state asked FEMA for a six month extension to figure out the Nicholas schools issue. He said he expects the extension to be approved.

It’s unknown what the Nicholas County school board will do. The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday night.