State school board rejects Nicholas consolidation plan, again

By Brad McElhinny in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — At the conclusion of an emergency meeting a day head of a court hearing on the matter, the state school board voted to again reject a Nicholas County school consolidation plan.

Monday afternoon’s meeting, which lasted five hours before a packed house of Nicholas County residents, was meant “to help expedite a final resolution of the matters pending before the Circuit Court so that federal funding will not be in jeopardy,” according to the official notification.

Instead, the local school board and the state school board again didn’t see eye to eye.

State board members wanted to know if all alternatives had been fully considered and sought assurances that the local board had really listened to the full community.

Nicholas officials said their decision had come after thorough discussion. They said student population has been shrinking, costs have been building and consolidation has been a long time coming.

They also said last summer’s catastrophic flooding not only moved up the timeline but also provided federal money that they hope to use to the greatest degree possible.
The Nicholas County board voted earlier this year to consolidate after the schools in Richwood and Summersville Middle School were destroyed in the June 2016 flood.

The consolidation plan was first rejected by the state board on June 13. FEMA had given Nicholas County until June 25 to make its decision. The agency recently granted a six-month extension.

Up next is a show-cause hearing Tuesday in Kanawha Circuit Court for a lawsuit filed by Nicholas County officials alleging that Gov. Jim Justice and state School Superintendent Steve Paine worked to stop the plan and that Paine gave misleading information to the state Board of Education.

The governor has denied playing in a role in the state Board of Education’s decision.

“The Governor and his office stayed completely out of the state Board of Education’s decision on Nicholas County,” Justice spokesman Grant Herring said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed.

The next regularly-scheduled state school board meeting is set for Wednesday. The Nicholas County consolidation issue was already on the agenda for that meeting and remains there.

Following Monday’s meeting, state school board president Tom Campbell said he had hoped Nicholas County school officials would agree to expedited cooperation with state officials in search of a compromise.

“I certainly believe in local decisions, but local decisions need to be accompanied by input from all the citizens,” Campbell said.

He said this version of the state board, with most members named by Justice within the past six months, is more attentive to detail than past incarnations. That’s why it’s willing to question a decision made by a locally-elected board, Campbell said.