CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education has been ordered to give conditional approval to the Nicholas County school system’s post-flood school consolidation plan or post a $130 million bond to cover federal funds on the line with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom issued the order Monday after rejecting a request by the state BOE to put a stay on his ruling from last month in which he said the board erred when it rejected the Nicholas County plan that includes combining Nicholas County and Richwood high schools and Richwood and Summersville middle schools.
Bloom recessed the hearing earlier Monday and urged both the state board and Nicholas County BOE to reach a settlement. State Department of Education Communications Director Kristin Anderson said the Nicholas board “refused to consider any alternative other than countywide consolidation.”
Deputy State Attorney General Kelli Talbott, arguing on behalf of the state board Tuesday, said without the stay the Nicholas board would move forward with its plan and it’s possible there would no turning back despite the ruling from the state Supreme Court on the appeal of Bloom’s original order.
The state Board of Education is scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday on the WVU campus in Morgantown. Everything is status quo until then, Anderson said.
“The WVBE will decide if they will either conditionally approve the CEFP or post the bond,” she said.
Judge Bloom indicated he would grant the stay if the state board chooses the $130 million bond posting option.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court entered a scheduling order Monday on the state board’s appeal. The Court set oral arguments for Oct. 3.
The Nicholas school system hopes to work under FEMA’s “428 program” that would allow consolidation of grant funds into one pot to be used for projects outside the scope of direct replacement.
Under that proposal, the county would combine five schools at one campus at Glade Creek Business Park in the Summersville area. The schools are Richwood High and Middle Schools, Summersville Middle, Nicholas County High School, and the county’s vocational school. The new facility is expected to cost $130 million.
The county has already received a six-month extension on a FEMA deadline, running out in December now, to work through differences with the state.
Twice, state school board members have already rejected the Nicholas County plan — expressing concern that local board members didn’t adequately listen to concerns from Richwood residents and that alternatives might exist.
In the earlier hearing before Bloom, state board members acknowledged that members of the Nicholas County board abided by the letter of state policy, which they often called by its number, 6204.
But the state board members said they didn’t believe the Nicholas board members listened intently enough to concerns or that they engaged with all county residents with enough zeal.
Bloom had concluded the state school board went beyond its own rules. Bloom wrote that the state board’s general supervision powers do not give it free reign.
MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny contributed to this story.