By C.V. Moore
A certain amount of disagreement about the future of Fayette County Schools was apparent at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting as board and community members voiced their thoughts about what a path forward for the district could eventually look like.
Board members continued to work through the process by which they will gather community input on school facilities in preparation for a bond call this fall aimed at upgrading the county’s schools and keeping them all open.
Instead of choosing two board members to serve on a steering committee overseeing the process, they elected to have all attend on a rotating basis so that a variety of perspectives and regions are represented.
Superintendent Keith Butcher spoke briefly regarding the role and makeup of a larger community advisory committee that will ultimately weigh in on school needs before the bond is prepared.
The committee will be made up of three representatives from each school: the principal, the Local School Improvement Council chair and a community member not employed by the schools. Each high school will also put forward a student representative.
They will hold at least one community forum at their school, in which they will discuss and prioritize facility needs. They will also make recommendations for further physical improvements to their school.
Finally, they will make a recommendation about the feasibility of a bond that would keep all community schools open. No bond has been put together at this point, he noted.
A visitor comment period on Tuesday was largely consumed by speeches from New Haven residents in support of community schools, as well as another plea from a Valley High School parent that the board find a place for the school’s football team to play.
“Right now we have 106 days until football season,” said Gary Rowe. “We’ve got to have an answer soon.”
The community is exploring a partnership and cost-share for fixing up WVU Tech’s field for the high school’s use.
Butcher reports he just received estimates for new Astroturf for the football field at WVU Tech and has spoken with the college’s president, Dr. Carolyn Long, about the matter. Both leaders will be bringing their teams together for a meeting to discuss possibilities.
“There’s not a day that goes by that we do not discuss it,” Butcher said.
The microphone then passed to Carolyn Arritt, a member of the steering committee overseeing the bond and an ardent supporter of community schools.
She first spoke of the “good news” that the citizens of Fayette County are “free at last” to choose their own path when it comes to facilities.
But she also sharply criticized those she feels are “attempting to keep us under a dictatorship” and undermine a grassroots effort, including board members Leon Ivey and Pat Gray; those who’ve written to state superintendent James Phares with criticism of the new plan; and the local press.
She referred to legal steps that would be taken to make sure the county doesn’t close schools after the bond is passed, while at the same time calling for an end to friction and personal agendas.
“Let’s stay out of it, folks. Let’s let the citizens decide,” she said.
Two other Meadow Bridge area residents, Dorothy Foster and Shirley McGraw, echoed her sentiments and support of community schools.
Ivey responded that he would make his decisions “in the best interest of the children of our county ... based on facts” and expressed concern that “all this bond does is talk about facilities and nothing about education in our schools.”
During board comments, Gray addressed Arritt’s remarks directly, saying he shares with her a passion for students but perhaps sees a different path forward.
“I do believe in community schools, but I believe our definitions might differ,” he said. “Perhaps we have a different view on what community is.”
He said that though it was formed through consolidation, he considers Midland Trail High School a community school where students from Turkey Creek, Rich Creek and other small communities share an education. He said he sees his children participate in extracurricular activities with friends across the county.
“They don’t see community as I once saw community,” he said. “Their community has broadened in scope from what we have defined it as. I think it’s important to listen to our kids because those lines and geographical boundaries have blurred.”
Board president Steve Bush, seemingly in an effort to diffuse conflict, ended the meeting by paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, saying “I choose to love because hate is too bitter a burden to bear.”