By Cody Neff
The Fayette County Board of Education’s first meeting of 2014 started Monday with controversy related to a possible policy change.
One Meadow Bridge resident said the advised changes to the out-of-county transfer policy were illegal and a grim reminder of the past.
“The original policy was adopted in 1976 and updated in 1977,” Carolyn Arritt, a former member of the county Board of Education, said.
“The policy of Summers County transfers were a non-issue from 1926 through 2000. That’s 74 years. In September of 2001, the board was determined to impose countywide consolidation. They designed an ingenious method to undermine Meadow Bridge.
“They would drop our attendance by restricting out-of-county transfers. Therefore, under the direction of the new superintendent, Fayette County decided to send kindergarten students from Meadow Bridge Elementary to Danese Elementary.
“It was heart-wrenching to watch children so small that the bus looked like it was empty as it passed by. The Meadow Bridge voices were ignored and a feud, which continues today, erupted.”
Arritt said the board left everyone with no other options than to sue.
“Our first court case was Paul McClung vs. Fayette County Board of Education,” she said. “The court recognized the transfer policy defects and we won. We thought the lesson had been learned.
“In February and March of 2002, under a second superintendent, the policy was brought up for the first and second readings. Mr. McClung, Mrs. Persinger, and I reminded the board of the previous lawsuit and advised that they not continue a third reading. After consideration the superintendent decided that the policy would not be pursued.”
After an appeal from four Summers County students, they were allowed to go to Meadow Bridge. Arritt says the state superintendent said the schools in Summers County were just too far away.
“Here we go again with a sixth superintendent who wants to change the policy for a sixth time,” she said. “The current policy states, ‘If the approval is granted, then the approval will not, by default, expire annually.’ The revised transfer policy will require all requests to expire annually. This is not only illegal but it is also stressful and senseless hardship on our school children and families.
“When one considers recent actions at the state level, one would think the county would be happy that out-of-county students preferred going to Meadow Bridge schools instead of their own county’s schools. Will this policy be dropped or will the Meadow Bridge Citizens’ Group have to sue again and win again just as we did in 2001?”
Keith Butcher, Fayette County superintendent, said the policy change wasn’t about targeting anyone and the changes could help the county financially.
“Many of our neighboring counties have policies that require an annual review of transfer in the county,” Butcher said. “The reason for that is financial. If the county is placed into a position of having to add an additional classroom for one student who moves into your district, then it’s at great cost to your district. Before we have any policy changes regarding transfers, we will have it reviewed to make sure that it’s legal and appropriate.
“Nicholas County, for example, has a policy that those transfers are annually reviewed, along with other districts in the state of West Virginia as well. It’s just wise financially for you to have those policies in place. It certainly doesn’t just apply to one border of our county.
“We have populations of students that border us in Montgomery and in other areas of the county where we really need to pay close attention to enrollment and provide the best education that we can for our students with the financial situation that we have.”
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The meeting was also a chance for parents from Gatewood to talk about how happy everyone was that they got to keep their school.
“On Dec. 19 of 2013, our school got the greatest news right before Christmas that it would remain open,” Betty Miller said. “We understand that this is something that we will probably have to fight again. We know.
“Most of our kids today and last week made some thank you cards. It was just a thought that our kids had to make cards just to say thank you for leaving our school open for another year.”
Miller brought a stack of handmade cards to the board members and thanked them again for keeping the school open for now.
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The Fayette County school event coordinator also announced the times for future spelling bees and fairs.
“I invite everyone to attend our Fayette County Spelling Bees,” Dale Arrington said. “They are scheduled for Oak Hill High School next Tuesday, Jan. 21. Our Elementary Bee begins at 9 a.m. and our Regional Qualifying Bee begins at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, is the make-up day for the spelling bee if there’s bad weather.
“The Fayette County Social Studies Fair, which will also be at Oak Hill High School, is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 15, with an inclement weather makeup of the 22 of February. The judging will take place between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. You can see the projects from 12 to 1 and we have our awards presentation around 1 p.m. We also have a guest from the History Alive! program who will be there and he will be portraying (Chief) Cornstalk. Those shows will be around 10:15 and 11:15 a.m.”
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The superintendent finished out the meeting by talking about some of the challenges and goals coming in 2014.
“Our No. 1 goal and challenge is to improve education for the students,” Butcher said. “We are continuing to look at ways to improve the curriculum that we have to increase engagement and help our teachers with new and effective teaching strategies to help our students achieve.
“We want to improve our financial status, continue to follow all of our personnel laws and regulations, and do a good job at hiring and retaining the best possible personnel that we have. It has always remained obvious at the present time that Fayette County needs to improve the state of our facilities and we will review our current Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan and look for ways in which we can review and revise our plan to do a better job with facilities.”
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