CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Board of Education members voted Wednesday to exclude Fayette County's smallest high school in a proposed consolidation plan, despite local officials' concerns that the move could prevent outdated schools throughout the district from getting long-needed renovations.
Fayette County Schools, which is currently under state control, proposed a merger of Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge and Midland Trail high schools in an attempt to address a dwindling budget slammed by aging facilities that officials say are overstaffed and inefficient.
At state Board of Education President Gayle Manchin's request, the board voted Wednesday to pull Meadow Bridge High School out of the equation and delay any action involving the school for at least a year, citing concerns over long bus rides for students and a lack of exposure to extracurricular activities.
But Fayette County school board member Leon Ivey said that would hurt the chances of the passage of a bond up for vote in May, which was to be used to fund a slew of renovations and replacements of old schools throughout the district that are in desperate need of repair.
"Fayette County will not pass any bond that does not represent all students. You will again set us back if you vote to make Fayette County keep a high school open ... and when we go in the red, I think you should make up the difference," Ivey told the state board.
Ivey called Wednesday's amendment to Fayette County's Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan "unfair and unequal," and said keeping Meadow Bridge open will continue the school district's history of poor student performance instead of giving children more educational opportunities through a merger.
Fayette County has a total of five high schools -- some of the smallest in the state -- and the district has faced financial problems for decades by continuing to maintain outdated buildings instead of reaping benefits from consolidation, Ivey said.
But people like Michelle Farr, a Meadow Bridge parent, said a consolidation would've forced many parents to travel long distances to get their children to school, and said in recent months of debate between the county's high school communities, the issue has become more politically charged instead of being about the needs of children.
"I didn't know a student's education rested in politics. Call me naïve," she said. "We're not enemies from across the Gorge. ... The idea that we're enemies was laid out by the Fayette County Board of Education."
Fayette County parent Jeff Heater said he's worried about the school district's future without the passage of a bond to improve facilities. While in class, his daughter was hit by a 2-foot-long piece of cement that fell from her classroom's ceiling.
"For the past 35 years, the experts have been telling us we have too many high schools. For the past 35 years, we've been closing elementary and middle schools, but not high schools," he said. "Not much has changed in Fayette County. ... Ultimately, we will run out of options."
State school board members Lloyd Jackson and Bob Dunlevy voted against the motion to keep Meadow Bridge High School open, with Jackson saying he did not feel confident questioning a plan that was created by a range of local officials and residents who are more involved than the state school board.