Board member encourages rethinking of consolidations

WELLSBURG — A new member of the Brooke County Board of Education has encouraged the panel to revisit plans to merge the county’s primary schools.

Stacy Hooper, the board’s new vice president, has suggested the board form a committee to revisit the comprehensive educational facilities plan as it stands.

On Monday she told the board, “I think we’re going to have issues with the (school district’s five-year operating) levy based on the CEFP. People are saying, we’re not going to support the levy because of it.”

Hooper suggested a committee of school personnel and community members could “bridge a gap” between the board and the public.

Superintendent Toni Shute said such a committee was involved in developing the plan approved by the board in 2010 and will be needed to update it for approval by the state Board of Education in 2020.

She suggested a work session to discuss forming the group.

The 2010 plan called for the merging of the county’s two middle schools into one new school, which will open this year. It also called for the county’s seven primary schools to be merged into one new school at the county’s north end and another at the south end.

For more than a year the group attended meetings led by a private educational consultant and an engineering firm involved in designing new schools. When the board held a public hearing on the recommended plan, it heard from just two people, one for and one against.

Shute noted the board had planned to close all seven primary schools first but building two new schools would have meant higher taxes for the county’s residents.

Instead, last year the board sought an amendment from the state Board of Education allowing it to close L.B. Millsop, Colliers and Beech Bottom primary schools and merge them with the four remaining schools beginning this year.

School officials cited a decline in revenue of more than $12 million during the last four years and enrollment, which had dropped by 439 students last year and is expected to drop by 212 this year.

The amendment included a change to the four remaining schools’ names and grades. Hooverson Heights and Wellsburg primary schools have become Brooke Primary North and South, serving grades K-2, and Jefferson and Franklin primary schools have become Brooke Intermediate North and South, serving grades three and four.

School officials have said the approach will allow schools to focus on the needs and educational objectives for children close in age.

Shute said if that approach is found not to be as successful, it could be revisited.

Future plans call for the four to be merged into two, possibly using land occupied by the two closed middle schools, or one at a central location to be determined.

Shute said funds aren’t available from the state School Building Authority to repair old school buildings but are to build new ones.

The new middle school was funded with $18 million by the SBA and $12 million from a $15 million bond issue approved by Brooke County voters in 2014.

The remainder of funds generated by the 15-year bond issue went to replacing the heating ventilation and air conditioning system at Brooke High School.

The SBA also awarded a $100,000 grant to the school district for expenses incurred in planning the school, including the hiring of bond counsel.

Shute said, “I think as our community sees this new state-of-the-art middle school, they’re going to want state-of-the-art elementary schools.”

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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