WV approves Fayette school closures, spares Meadow Bridge High

Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer

The West Virginia Board of Education voted Wednesday to approve closing all public schools that the Fayette County school board proposed for closure, denying only the county’s plan to close Meadow Bridge High.

The school closings, which the Fayette board approved 4-1 in May, will leave the county with three high schools and would close a few schools on borders with other counties. Among the schools to close are Mount Hope Elementary, Ansted Middle and Fayetteville High.
Meadow Bridge High supporters have fought to save that school from past consolidation proposals supported by the state board. These supporters consistently showed up to state board meetings in Charleston.

The state, until recently, was in control of Fayette’s schools.

The county wanted to close Meadow Bridge High and turn Meadow Bridge Elementary from a pre-kindergarten- through sixth-grade school into a pre-K- through eighth-grade school that would take in Meadow Bridge High’s seventh- and eighth-graders, all at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Meadow Bridge High’s ninth- through 12th-graders were to attend Midland Trail High or Greenbrier County’s Greenbrier West High, although Greenbrier’s school board might have had to vote to accept them.

State board member Miller Hall, of Raleigh County, made the motion Wednesday to approve all proposed closures but the one for Meadow Bridge High, citing student transportation concerns.

“The increased transportation times could be coupled with severe weather,” Hall said.

The state did approve closing Valley High, despite supporters mounting a vocal opposition to that school’s closure in past months.

About 300 people showed up in April to a school-closure hearing at Valley High, in Smithers, and BridgeValley Community and Technical College President Eunice Bellinger, Kanawha YMCA chief executive Monty Warner and others offered help to keep the school open.

Bellinger and Warner were in the audience of about 150 at Wednesday’s state board meeting, and they again tried to dissuade the board from approving the school’s closure.

Libby Akers, a resident of the Montgomery area and a 1990 graduate of Valley High, said she expects the next step will be for Valley High supporters to talk to a lawyer. She said she plans to sue.

Akers has been a vocal advocate for keeping Valley High open.

“I don’t understand, I mean, the logic at all,” Akers said after the state board’s vote. “With keeping Valley open, there’s no added cost. In order to keep Meadow Bridge open, they’re either going to have to fix that school, or make it a K-12. You know Valley has no building issues.”

Among those in the standing-room-only crowd were people wearing the colors of Valley High and Meadow Bridge High.

All nine voting members of the state board were in attendance Wednesday. After about a 15-minute break in the meeting, following public speakers, a presentation from Fayette schools Superintendent Terry George and state board member questions about the consolidation plan, the board members approved all closures except Meadow Bridge High in a voice vote.

Only Jeff Flanagan, of Kanawha County, was recorded as voting no, although it’s possible other members didn’t vote or were inaudible in their no vote.
This was the final state school board or School Building Authority sign-off that George said was needed for the far-reaching consolidation plan to progress. The county still may ask the state to approve closing Ansted and Divide elementaries.

“I think that, with the motion that was made today and approved by the board, we will be capable of moving forward,” George said.

He had told the state board in his presentation that not closing the schools could hamper Fayette’s ability to repay and secure a planned $11 million loan to fund equipment needed for new schools being designed in the Oak Hill area. Savings from closing schools are supposed to pay down the loan.

George said after the state’s vote that he doesn’t know if the exemption of Meadow Bridge High’s closure will increase the loan’s interest rate, which he previously said was going to be 2 percent to 3 percent annually. The loan was planned to be paid off at a pace of about $1 million annually.

“They pulled Meadow Bridge, and that’s their discretion. I’m not going to stand there and argue with them; I appreciate the attention they gave us today,” George said. He then said, “I don’t think it’ll change the terms [of the loan] at all.”

Fayette will close buildings, reconfigure grade levels and transfer students to drop the number of schools from 18 to 11. The closures the state approved Wednesday cleared the way for the county to take the following actions:

Close Ansted Middle at the end of next school year.

Turn Midland Trail High from a ninth- through 12th-grade school into a sixth- through 12th-grade school at the end of next school year by sending Ansted Middle’s students there.

Close Valley Elementary at the end of 2018-19.

Turn Valley High from a sixth- through 12th-grade school into a pre-K- through eighth-grade school that will take in the Valley Elementary students, all at the end of the 2018-19 school year. Valley High’s ninth- through 12th-graders are to attend Fayette’s Oak Hill High or Midland Trail High, or Kanawha County’s Riverside High, although Kanawha’s school board might have to vote to accept them.

Close Rosedale Elementary at the end of 2018-19.

Close Mount Hope Elementary at the end of 2018-19.

Remove fifth grade from Collins Middle, turning that school into a sixth- through eighth-grade school at the end of 2018-19.

Turn New River Elementary from a kindergarten- through fourth-grade school into a third- through fifth-grade school that will take in the third- through fifth-graders from Rosedale and Mount Hope elementaries and the fifth-graders from Collins Middle, all at the end of 2018-19.

Fayette has received $22.6 million in state School Building Authority money to help build a new pre-K- through second-grade school in Oak Hill to accept all the students in those grades from Rosedale, Mount Hope and New River elementaries at the end of 2018-19. Some Mount Hope Elementary students are to attend Bradley Elementary, in Raleigh County, although Raleigh’s school board might have to vote to accept them.)

Close Fayetteville Elementary at the end of 2018-19.

Close Gatewood Elementary at the end of 2018-19.

Turn Fayetteville High from a seventh- through 12th-grade school into a pre-K- through eighth-grade school that will take in the students from Fayetteville and Gatewood elementaries at the end of 2018-19. The Fayetteville High ninth- through 12th-graders are to attend Oak Hill High.

This week’s state board meeting agenda item on Fayette didn’t provide a recommendation from the Department of Education on the closures, other than that the department recommended “consideration” of them.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.