Fayette school board approves consolidations

RYAN QUINN | Gazette-Mail
Meadow Bridge High supporter Carolyn Arritt speaks to the Fayette County school board Tuesday at New River Elementary.

OAK HILL — Fayette County’s school board voted Tuesday night to close buildings, reconfigure schools’ grade levels and transfer students to drop the county’s number of public schools from 18 to 13, with the intention to eventually drop to 11.

Patsy Holliday was the only board member heard voting no in the single vote to approve the moves. The state Board of Education must now decide whether to sign off on the school closings, which would leave Fayette with two public high schools and would close a few schools on borders with other counties.

Tuesday’s vote came after a public hearing at New River Elementary, an Oak Hill school that is set to become a grades three through five school. About 30 people showed up, and several of the 10 who spoke had been vocal in supporting and opposing past consolidation plans.

Eight out of the 10 spoke in favor of consolidation.

Earlier Tuesday, no speakers showed up to a hearing for another Oak Hill school, Rosedale Elementary, which is planned to close.

In all, Fayette’s board had 14 public hearings over four weeks before Tuesday’s vote. The board voted to:

n Close Ansted Middle at the end of next school year.

n 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.

n Close Valley Elementary at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

n Turn Valley High from a sixth- through 12th-grade school into a prekindergarten- 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 planned to attend Fayette’s Oak Hill High or Midland Trail High, or Kanawha County’s Riverside High, though Kanawha’s school board may have to vote on whether to accept them.

n Close Meadow Bridge High at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

n Turn Meadow Bridge Elementary from a prekindergarten- through sixth-grade school into a prekindergarten- through eighth-grade school that will 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 are planned to attend Midland Trail High or Greenbrier County’s Greenbrier West High, though Greenbrier’s school board may have to vote on whether to accept them.

n Close Rosedale Elementary at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

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

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

n 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 the 2018-19 school year.

n Build a new prekindergarten- 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 the 2018-19 school year. Some Mount Hope Elementary students are planned to attend Bradley Elementary in Raleigh County, though Raleigh’s school board may have to vote to accept them.

n Close Fayetteville Elementary at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

n Close Gatewood Elementary at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

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

“It’s not me who judges, but God above judges you and He knows what you’ve said, He knows what you’ve done, He knows what your heart is,” said Meadow Bridge High supporter Carolyn Arritt. “I’m not saying not do for Oak Hill, I’m not saying that. They’re wonderful people and they deserve it, they deserve the schools, Midland Trail deserves the schools, but why should we be takin’ away our schools so that they can have theirs.”

“There’s an old saying, a playground saying, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ and we’re left in a situation where we don’t necessarily have a lot of money to work with,” said board member Darrin McGuffin, after noting past attempts to persuade voters to pass school construction and consolidation bonds in Fayette had failed.

The president of the state school board is Tom Campbell, an opponent of past plans to close Meadow Bridge High, which the Fayette board voted Tuesday to close.

Six of the state board’s nine members with voting power also are appointees of Gov. Jim Justice, who took office in January and has spoken against consolidation. Justice took office after the old version of the state board, not led by Campbell, OK’d the Fayette board’s consolidation plan.

But state law still required the Fayette board to hold public hearings for each school that would be affected by its actions. After the 14 hearings, the Fayette board voted on all the closures, reconfigurations and consolidations Tuesday, putting the issue back before the state board for its final vote.

That vote isn’t on this week’s state board agenda.

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

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