By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After seven years of state control, Fayette County has regain control of its schools except for facilities and finances related to facilities.
The State Board of Education took up the annual review from the Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA) in its Thursday meeting.
State-appointed Superintendent Terry George, along with board members of the Fayette County Board of Education, were present for the meeting.
After a 30-minute executive session, state board members returned and OEPA director Susan O’Brien made the recommendation to return partial control to Fayette County.
State Board of Education Superintendent Michael Martirano said he wanted to make sure the Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan goes forward in a systematic fashion, which is why he wanted the exception of facilities and finances related to facilities.
The return of control is effective Feb. 6, contingent upon the county executing a memorandum of understanding between it and the Department of Education.
When control is returned to a district, there typically is a memorandum of understanding developed between the state Board of Education and the local district. This memorandum includes following through the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan.
OEPA will conduct another annual review in Fayette County during the 2017-2018 school year and may make further recommendations.
“It’s a great day for Fayette County,” Fayette board member Stephen Slockett said after the meeting.
George said he didn’t have any hopes for anything before the meeting, but was very excited after board members made the announcement.
“It is an exciting day and I’m very excited for our citizens, excited for our board members, and I’m looking forward to working not only with our board but our citizens to move forward with the projects for the construction of new schools and renovations of several of our other schools,” George said.
George will remain in place as the state-appointed superintendent.
“I want to thank the board for giving back control,” George told the board. “I assure you we will work with you and the department to guarantee to move forward with a plan for the CFP amendment. I look forward to working with you and having your input.”
The decision comes a month after the School Building Authority approved funding for capital improvements in Fayette County. Fayette received $12.6 million with a promise of another $10 million this December for a new Collins Middle School and Pre K-2 school in Oak Hill.
Just like in the board meeting, members of the School Building Authority stressed that the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan must be followed through in its entirety.
In the first phase of that plan, the district’s schools will be cut from 18 to 11. Mount Hope and Rosedale elementaries would close and those students would go to the new Oak Hill campus.
Portables also would be eliminated at Collins Middle School.
“I am pleased at the state board wants to remain involved in the facilities process,” George said. “I think that’s one of the key components of this plan as we move forward with facilities. Having their input will benefit us as we move forward as we continue with projects in the CFP.”
Slockett said this has been a long time coming, mentioning the struggles the county has undergone.
Slockett said the board will have to hold closure hearings in June, which he said will need approval from the state Board of Education in September or October.
George said he is excited for today but also is hopeful of the county getting back full control.
“I am very pleased with this movement,” George said. “I think as we move forward, it’s probably evident that shortly, we’ll get total control back.”
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In Thursday’s meeting, board members also discussed a legislative audit of RESAs.
The report recommended eliminating or restructuring eight Regional Education Service Agencies, creating an opportunity to remove duplication and redundancy that would save the state money.
In a previous hearing before the Joint Committee on Government Operations, John Sylvia, director for the performance evaluation and research division within the Legislative Auditor’s office, said RESAs function as agencies, which creates inefficiencies because the Department of Education provides oversight and direction over some of the same programs. He recommended instead of coming through regional agencies, to go through regional staff of the Department of Education. By doing that, he said duplication would be removed and the state would save money.
Board President Michael Green said the message was “loud and clear” to go back to the primary focus on student achievement. He called the audit “severely flawed in many areas” but said he didn’t want to do anything drastic and wanted to look at specific issues to see if board members can address them.
Martirano said the department is “by no means staffed in an appropriate way to begin that process.”
“The department has been consistently cut and there is a misunderstanding of staff positions throughout,” Martirano said. “I recognize RESAs are an easy target based on the perception of dollars. We want to continue in the vein of providing education and knowledge about what occurs. I firmly agree we need to do a better job about telling folks about what we do. The drivers need to be focused on support and capacity. It might sound nice to make recommendations for cuts but the work still needs to be done. … As we have cut positions, we have not cut work.”
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