Nicholas County has had a rough go of it over the last couple of years.
The decline of the coal industry led to shutdowns and layoffs, as well as a drop in the county’s tax revenue. In March 2015, Nicholas County announced plans to cut 24 full-time positions including nine from the sheriff’s department.
A little over a year later, the historic floods ravaged the county, destroying homes and businesses. The floods also destroyed Richwood High School and Richwood Middle School and Summersville Middle School.
The county school board decided the best way to rebuild was to consolidate those schools, along with Nicholas County High School and the Career and Technical Education Facility at one campus near Summersville.
That was a controversial move that divided the community between those who supported the plan and those who objected to Richwood losing their schools. A legal fight ensued, reaching all the way to the State Supreme Court.
The High Court ruled in favor of the State Board of Education, which had twice rejected the local board’s consolidation plan. It would seem like a Herculean task to try to resolve the controversy without alienating one side or the other, but there might just be a way forward.
State School Superintendent Steve Paine said on MetroNews Talkline that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is expected to partially fund the replacement schools, is proposing a mediator be brought in to help sort out the mess.
“They (FEMA) would bring someone in to work with the community, starting with the board of education, who I deeply respect,” Paine said. “They’ll go through some kind of consensus-building process and perhaps bring an alternative that would be suitable to everyone back at the state board.”
That is a promising idea. A professional mediator would bring unbiased expertise to the problem. Ideally, the mediator will not make the important decisions—that’s what an arbitrator does—but rather they will help the parties reach agreement among themselves.
That would be much more preferable than litigation where one side wins and one side loses. This is an issue for the people of Nicholas County and with proper guidance, they might just be able to solve this emotional dispute on their own.
Nicholas County could use something positive.