The West Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a stay to a circuit court judge’s order that the state Board of Education approve the Nicholas County Board of Education’s plan to consolidate schools in Richwood, Summersville and Craigsville into a campus near Summersville.
The move came ahead of today’s 1 p.m. meeting, at the Region 4 Planning and Development Council’s offices at 885 Broad St., Suite 100, in Summersville, of the Nicholas County Building Commission. The building commission owns the Glade Creek Business Park, where the Nicholas board intends to put the consolidated campus, and “property matters” and “public comments” are listed among the dozen or so words on its meeting agenda.
In a one-page order without explanation, the Supreme Court granted the stay of Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Duke Bloom’s Aug. 18 order pending the outcome of the appeal by the state school board and state schools Superintendent Steve Paine to the high court of Bloom’s decision.
The justices granted the stay without requiring the $130 million bond Bloom had ordered the state board to post by this past Monday if it wanted to receive a stay from him.
“The stay issues without requiring the posting of any bond,” the high court wrote.
Bloom had given the state board one other option: conditionally approve the Nicholas board’s plan. While turning to the Supreme Court for an appeal, the state board granted that conditional approval Friday.
But Heather Hutchens, general counsel for the West Virginia Department of Education, said Friday that the conditional approval would be withdrawn if the Supreme Court granted the state board’s requested stay, as it now has.
Bloom had written that his Aug. 18 ruling, which reversed the state board’s earlier denial of the consolidation, “should remain in effect” during the state board’s appeal so the Nicholas board could move forward with the West Virginia School Building Authority and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to obtain required approvals and to compile and provide the information needed to receive an award of FEMA section 428 monies by the end of this year.”
The Nicholas board plans to use FEMA recovery funding from the June 2016 flood, which damaged Richwood Middle, Richwood High and Summersville Middle, to build the consolidated campus. That money could instead rebuild those three schools, whose former buildings have been closed since the flood.
The proposed consolidated campus would combine those three schools with Nicholas County High and the county’s vocational education center, neither of which was closed because of the flood.
The state board denied the county board’s plan on June 13 and, on June 27, the Nicholas board filed a lawsuit against the state and Paine, alleging that the denial was arbitrary.
The state BOE argues that the West Virginia Constitution gives it the right and duty to approve or disapprove consolidation plans on their merits, not just on whether local school boards follow procedures in creating them.
Bloom said he was requesting the $130 million bond as a condition of the stay to cover the possible loss of that much FEMA funding for the Nicholas plan.
That $130 million figure has been stated as the estimated cost of the consolidated campus. Nicholas Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick has said the costs of buying the property for the campus and preparation of the site for construction are not part of the $130 million estimation — she said that figure is just to construct the buildings.
The Nicholas board’s attorneys had filed a motion Monday opposing the request for a stay.
“If a stay is granted and the state board’s denial of the Nicholas Co. BOE’s CEFP [comprehensive educational facilities plan] amendment is left in place pending appeal, the SBA will not be in a position to consider and approve the CEFP amendment or help the Nicholas Co. BOE with the information required by FEMA,” the Nicholas board argued in the filing. “[L]ittle time is left to obtain SBA approval and assistance to meet the FEMA deadline. Every day literally matters now.”
In requesting the stay, Senior Deputy Attorney General Kelli Talbott, representing the state board and Paine, wrote that the state has requested an extension of the Dec. 26 application deadline — a deadline already supposedly pushed back from June — for Nicholas to receive FEMA 428 funds.
The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for Oct. 3.