CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state School Building Authority, scheduled Monday to vote on changes to allow the consolidation of Nicholas County’s flooded schools, declined to vote on the plan because the changes must go to the state Board of Education first.
The consolidation plan will be sent to the state school board before the SBA can take a vote.
Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber was at Monday’s SBA meeting to speak out against the plan proposed by the Nicholas County Board of Education following the June 2016 flood.
The plan means shutting down Nicholas County High School, Richwood High School and the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center. Those schools would merge into one facility. Also, Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle schools would be closed and replaced with one middle school. Those new schools would be built in the Glade Creek Business Park in Summersville.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to replace the schools. Baber said the Nicholas County school board wants to leave Richwood out to dry by building the new schools in Summersville.
“How long are we going to let the Nicholas County Board of Education lie and cheat and twist FEMA’s money around to their own personal city of Summersville benefit?” Baber told MetroNews outside the West Virginia Lottery Building Monday, where the SBA meeting was held.
“FEMA, you are to restore the impacted community. The impacted community is Richwood, West Virginia. To have our money booted and hijacked to Summersville is an egregious violation of everything I know,” he said.
Donna Burge-Tetrick, superintendent of Nicholas County Schools, was also in attendance. She and other board members outlined the benefits of the consolidation, which was listed on the SBA’s Monday agenda.
One of those benefits says: “All Campus facilities will meet all current Handicapped Codes and standards that the current facilities are deficient.” Baber argued that.
“Nice look, Donna and board. You’re using handicapped students to make your case when three new schools will also have new handicapped facilities? Oh my God. Give me a break,” he said.
But Burges-Terick said the consolidation is necessary because student enrollment is declining at a rate of around one percent annually.
“With that and with the decreasing tax revenues in the county, it’s going to be very difficult to sustain 14 schools with a population of 3,795 students,” she said.
Building new schools, she said, means turning over a new leaf and bringing the community closer together.
“We have an opportunity now, in face of tragedy, which we lost three schools in Nicholas County, we can convert that FEMA money to help us create two new schools,” she said. “We’ll have more opportunities for sports, centrally located, and unity for the county.”
A lot of community members rose in opposition for the consolidations during public hearings this month at Nicholas County schools. Burge-Tetrick said she knows it’s not a popular decision, but it has to be done.
“I feel their pain. I’m sorry that they lost their schools during the flood. I’m just hopeful that we can all work together,” she said.
Governor Jim Justice previously said he opposes the school consolidations.
If the plan is approved, the two new schools could open as soon as the end of the 2019-2020 school year.