By Cody Neff
Now that the West Virginia State Board of Education has voted to remove, for now, Meadow Bridge High School from Fayette County’s Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan, a new plan must be in place by the end of this year.
The board held the vote Wednesday at its October meeting.
“Meadow Bridge is out of the CEFP,” Fayette County Superintendent Keith Butcher said. “The proposal is due in December and our bond call would be due in May. That bond call now needs to be ready in January.”
Butcher told the board before the vote that removing Meadow Bridge could keep the county residents from voting for a new school bond. Losing the bond, he said, could force the board to cut jobs and keep the county from moving ahead with its Capital Improvement Plan and CEFP.
“Neither one of the projects can go through,” Butcher said. “We don’t get the School Building Authority money and we would not get the money to improve (schools). I’m still going to have to reduce personnel at the secondary level. We’re going to have some very tough decisions that we’re going to have to make about what would happen at that point.”
State board member Lloyd Jackson II said the removal sends the wrong message to the people of Fayette County.
“I’ll tell you what troubles me about this,” he said. “We’re going to pull one school out of this CEFP. We’re going to tell the rest of the county that they have to solve the county’s problems, but this one area doesn’t have to participate in this. I’d feel a whole lot better if we just told Mr. Butcher to go back to the drawing board and come with another plan. If they decide to keep Meadow Bridge High School open, then that tickles me to death. I’m fine with that if they can find a way to do it.
“What we’re doing to that county is, we’ve sent this superintendent down there and we’ve taken this county over through this process and he came back with a report. I think for us to substitute our judgment for his ... in a way that ties his hands and keeps him from balancing his budget, is a precedent that the board should be really careful about setting ...,” Jackson said.
Speaking about the removal, state Superintendent James Phares told Butcher that he would have to set aside any personal opinions if Fayette County is going to get things done in the future.
“... I would like to remind you that, whether you agree with the board’s decision or not, the expectation of the state superintendent and your board is, do this with due diligence and to make sure you can answer any questions we might have,” said Phares.
“We would hope that you would develop the information that supports this board’s recent decision and not to come in and say, ‘Well, we’re going to argue this.’
“This is imperative on you, as the superintendent, that you bring back the data that they want,” Phares continued. “The one thing that you can’t give them is what the vote’s going to be (for the school bond). The thing that disappointed me about the study that was done this summer was that you all found everything that people would not support, but couldn’t find the one thing that they would all support. That’s always critical in passing the bond.
State President Gayle Manchin voiced her disappointment in the information provided by the Fayette BOE.
“I think, in many respects, there are parts of Fayette County that have not been respected. That’s my personal opinion. The parents I heard get up and speak about Meadow Bridge was their concerns with travel time. One of the big concerns was travel and extremely treacherous roads in the winter from Meadow Bridge to Midland Trail. In other reports, they never addressed that. Ever. It was always about how Midland Trail is a good high school. I don’t question that.
“What I asked for, on behalf of the board at our last meeting, was that we remove Meadow Bridge from the argument because feelings were very high. ...”
Manchin continued, “I think there are other options that have not been explored. What we have never addressed is our common place. We build schools within county lines and I just wonder if businesses, when a customer calls and wants to buy products or services, say ‘Do you live within Fayette County? Because if you live outside Fayette County then I really can’t address or serve you.’
“For years we have lived under this very old tradition that our schools can’t blur county lines. We can’t do what’s best for students by putting them where the population is and where the opportunities are.”
Manchin said many people must have misunderstood what she was asking for when she asked that Meadow Bridge be removed from the CEFP while a study was done.
“I just wanted an opportunity to allow the principals of the schools to meet. To have some conversations with students and to have students in to visit some of the options that they would have in terms of where their education would be. That there could be some respect and some dialogue within the community so that when we say these families and children have options, they know exactly what their options are,” Manchin added.”
“Unfortunately, because this has gone on for decades, maybe there is too much water under the bridge to hope that people will handle this in a mature way. This isn’t about, ‘We win. They win. We win. They lose.’ Who’s losing here are the children of Fayette County in many ways.
“I do care about each child in Fayette County. I don’t want any family or child in Fayette County to feel like they aren’t represented. When we talk about transforming education in West Virginia, one of the ways that we’re going to have to transform education is to blur county lines.”
Some Meadow Bridge proponents say that since they have some breathing room now, they hope everyone can work together to do what’s best for everyone.
“I’m hoping that today was the climax of the tension, so I hope after today everyone can breathe, come together from both sides of the gorge, and discuss some viable plans and some good plans that include all of the kids,” Michelle Farr said.
“What I would hope would happen is that we would be contacted and just for them to say, ‘We want you to be heard.’ That’s the most hurting part is feeling that you are not heard. President Manchin and the state board make the first time that we’ve felt heard, which makes us feel legitimate,” she continued. “If Fayette County Board of Education will listen and hear us respectfully, I think both sides could come to an understanding. Then we can come together and help to pass a bond.”
Scott Ingleton said he also hopes the talks about the county will be less tense in the future now that the CEFP has been amended.
“I think it’s a very positive step. I do hope that these discussions will take place and a plan can be put together where people who are from different areas are in harmony and can ultimately benefit all students in the county and just be able to be a unifying plan.”
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