West Virginia BOE president defends Nicholas county school plan rejection

By Shauna Johnson in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The City of Richwood in Nicholas County may or may not see two of its public schools rebuilt in the end, but the president of the West Virginia Board of Education said it’s a possibility BOE members and others want time to fully explore.

“I don’t know what the result will be,” Board President Tom Campbell said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the state BOE voted 7-1 to reject the Nicholas County Board of Education’s initial proposal to consolidate five schools into one middle school and one high school in new facilities to be located near Summersville in the wake of the June 2016 Flood.

The vote came at end of a long, often emotional meeting in Charleston.

The affected schools include Richwood Middle School, Richwood High School and Summersville Middle School which were all destroyed in flooding nearly a year ago along with the undamaged Nicholas County High and the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center.

The Nicholas County Board of Education unanimously approved the consolidation plan earlier this year, but Campbell said there may be a better way with multiple other pathways to new schools.

He referred to a possible alternative plan for the potential rebuilding of Summersville Middle, Richwood High and Richwood Middle within their communities as “Plan B” during an appearance on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The question, Campbell said, is this: Will “Plan B” work?

“Maybe ‘Plan B’ is looked at by the School Building Authority and by the Nicholas County Board and they come back and say, ‘It just won’t work.’ Then we probably don’t have much choice (to avoid consolidation), but the information we had was it really had not been explored,” he told Hoppy Kercheval.

A request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a six month extension, allowing time for additional review, is pending. The original deadline had been June 25.

FEMA will fund replacement schools for those that sustained extensive flood damage. “Plan B” would utilize FEMA funding in different ways.

“Dealing with FEMA is not a simple thing,” Campbell said. “The method that allows for the schools to stay in place is actually the same method Kanawha County is using.”

The schools flooded in Kanawha County last June were Clendenin Elementary School and Herbert Hoover High School.

Members of the Nicholas County Board of Education have argued that, beyond flood damage, declining student enrollment during the past 25 years is a major consideration for consolidation.

“Our philosophy in West Virginia, for a long time, has been if we can consolidate, we do it. I mean, that’s just it. That’s our culture,” Campbell said in response to that argument.

“I’m going to defend the Nicholas County Board to a great degree (for their initial proposal). I think they did what we’ve always done over the last three decades. I do not fault the Nicholas County Board.”

Going forward, Campbell said the state BOE will be looking at the underlying reasons for the initial consolidation proposal along with the pros and cons of large-scale rural consolidation.

A special meeting for the Nicholas County Board of Education was scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in Summersville.