NICHOLAS COUNTY, W.Va. — Mediation talks about the future of the Nicholas County schools flooded in June 2016 involving those brought in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency continue amid reports of some optimism a compromise is possible.
A FEMA deadline for possible replacement school funding, which has already been extended once, comes in December.
As of Tuesday morning, there had been no action on Governor Jim Justice’s request for another extension amid ongoing dispute resolution work.
“FEMA is acting as an insurance company,” said Chuck Toussieng, a Richwood councilmember who wants to see Richwood’s high school and middle school, which were both severely damaged in the flood, rebuilt in Richwood.
Summersville Middle School was also damaged beyond repair.
“Richwood had a loss. Summersville had a loss. Let’s not take advantage of that to take something from one community and build it in another,” he argued.
Toussieng has been among those meeting with mediators over the past two weeks.
The mediators have also heard from those in favor of consolidation.
“They did allow our group to verbalize our concerns over, not only the education of children in the Nicholas County High School feeder school community, but as well as the children all over the county,” said Heather Glasko-Tully, a Summersville resident.
She was part of a mediation meeting last week involving many people who have backed the Nicholas County Board of Education’s school consolidation plan which the West Virginia Board of Education rejected twice.
The state Supreme Court later upheld the Board’s authority to make such decisions.
What the Nicholas County BOE had proposed was using alternative FEMA funding to pool flood recovery money to cover the costs of a new consolidated complex in Summersville, as opposed to individual rebuilds of the flooded schools.
“I don’t think that the pro-consolidation side feels that the state Board was particularly respectful or considerate of the opinions of the pro-consolidation side and especially our local Board of Education,” Glasko-Tully said.
“I think there is some caution there and people are guarded because of that.”
On Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Toussieng said many of those in Richwood did not think they were heard by members of the Nicholas County Board of Education as the consolidation proposal was developed.
“I think the solution that makes the most sense is to restore what was lost,” Toussieng said.
In late October, Dr. Steve Paine, state superintendent of schools, said mediation was going well.
“I think it’s really important to trust the process,” he said at that time.
Toussieng agreed. “If there’s just a little bit of communication between the sides, I think we can find some kind of resolution.”