Nicholas County’s schools superintendent said Wednesday she hopes ground will be broken in November on replacements for the schools demolished after the June 2016 flood, and hopes for them to open at the start of the 2023-24 school year.
Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick said this during a roughly 5-minute update at the monthly West Virginia Board of Education meeting.
The Nicholas school rebuilding process has been contentious from the start, as Richwood school supporters fought the county Board of Education’s initial plan to use federal flood recovery dollars to rebuild Richwood’s schools not in that city, but near Summersville. The federal funds are now expected to total about $160 million for the school system.
After Gov. Jim Justice publicly opposed the consolidation and mediation occurred, following a lawsuit in which the Nicholas school board unsuccessfully sued the state school board for denying the consolidation plan, schools are now planned to be rebuilt in Richwood and near Summersville.
But Richwood’s middle and high schools will be added onto a greatly renovated Cherry River Elementary instead of being a freestanding campus, something some Richwood citizens have opposed. The latest budget would put roughly $30 million in federal and state funds toward the Richwood rebuilding and $147.5 million toward the planned school complex near Summersville.
Dave Ferguson, an architect and principal at Charleston-based ZMM Architects & Engineers, said the budget hasn’t been updated recently because Federal Emergency Management Agency finalization is still needed. He said he didn’t know how much the budget may change.
Summersville Middle, the third Nicholas school razed after the flood, is planned to be combined with two schools that are currently still operating: Nicholas County High and the vocational school in Craigsville. That combined school will be at the Glade Creek Business Park, near Summersville.
Also Wednesday, the board members re-elected, for another year, Dave Perry as their president, Miller Hall as their vice president and Tom Campbell as their financial officer.
Board member Jim Wilson made those nominations. No other nominations were made, and they were approved in a unanimous voice vote.
The board also voted unanimously to raise state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine’s annual salary from $230,000 to $234,000.
In March 2017, the board hired Paine, who was previously state superintendent from mid-2005 through the end of 2010, to return to the role. His salary has been $230,000 since his return.
Board members gave Paine a highly positive annual review last month.
“Dr. Paine basically refused this raise and he didn’t ask for this raise,” Perry said.
Paine said his raise shouldn’t be higher than what educators have received in the past two years.
Teachers statewide have received two consecutive $2,000 raises in those years. The first was after a statewide strike that Paine had publicly spoken against.
The pay increase came after board members emerged from a roughly hour-long closed session.
The board claimed exemptions from open meetings laws to discuss “personnel matters” and “to seek legal advice regarding the implementation of House Bill 206 ... a matter involving attorney-client privilege.”
HB 206 was the recently passed omnibus education bill, which, among many other things, legalizes charter schools in West Virginia.
The board sometimes hears legal interpretations in open session. When asked why board members went behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss HB 206, Perry referenced an email from House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, inviting Paine or a board representative to a July 22 legislative interim committee meeting.
Shott’s email says the invitation is to discuss “the respective roles of the State Board and the Legislature regarding public education” and “what actions the State Board has taken or is planning to take to modify or repeal regulations that will likely provide increased flexibility.”
The email specifically says the committee doesn’t intend to revisit HB 206, and it requests that whoever comes doesn’t “devote any of your time to components of that legislation except as they may be relevant to our increased flexibility focus.”
Perry said the email was discussed in closed session, as was whether to participate in the meeting. He said no decision was made in closed session.
“We discussed 206 in relation to this,” Perry said.
He declined to say what “legal implications” were discussed. He said litigation wasn’t discussed in the closed session.
The board also hired W. Scott Staley as principal of the School for the Deaf at the state Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, in Romney. Staley will make $85,000 annually.
County school boards usually hire principals, but the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind aren’t part of any county school system.
Also, the board recognized Lionel Hope Jr., an assistant teacher at Cabell County’s Highlawn Elementary, as the 2019 School Service Personnel Employee of the Year.
The West Virginia School Service Personnel Association union gave Hope $500, and Horace Mann, an insurance company that serves educators, gave him $2,000.