Fayette commission sues over school plan's rejection - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Fayette commission sues over school plan's rejection

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The West Virginia School Building Authority is being sued over its rejection of a school consolidation plan in Fayette County.

Fayette County Prosecutor and county attorney Larry Harrah said Tuesday that the nonprofit Charleston law firm Mountain State Justice filed the lawsuit in Kanawha County Circuit Court on behalf of the Fayette County Commission.

The School Building Authority voted Sept. 28 to deny the county's request for funding to combine Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail and Oak Hill high schools into a new school. The authority cited a lack of local support.

County officials say the authority violated the state's open meetings law by discussing and taking action outside its posted consent agenda.

The SBA didn't immediately return an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Read full news release below:

A lawsuit has been filed by Mountain State Justice, Inc. on behalf of the Fayette County Commission, Shawna Sparks, Geoffrey Heeter, and Fayette County Commissioner Matthew Wender, individually, against the School Building Authority of West Virginia (SBA) in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Harrah released the following information concerning this lawsuit:

Since the closure of the main building at Collins Middle School, which has contributed to extreme overcrowding at other schools and many challenges for the students remaining at Collins Middle School, the public outcry among Fayette County citizens has reached a fevered pitch, calling for the State government, which remains in control of the Fayette County schools, to address the failing school buildings and related deficiencies within the schools.

Drawing on the abundant community engagement, studies, recommendations, and plans, that have been developed over the preceding decade, Terry George, superintendant of the Fayette County Board of Education, worked with the FCBOE to compile an amendment to Fayette County’s CEFP (Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan) that would resolve the most conspicuous outstanding needs of the county schools.

It was the understanding of the Petitioners (Fayette County Commission) that the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) alone, and not the SBA, that has the responsibility for issuing a final approval of school closures, which in turn “automatically amends the CEFP” without requiring any further action by the SBA in order to complete the CEFP amendment.

On September 8, 2015, the WVBE did vote to approve the CEFP Amendment.  Thereafter, the SBA published an agenda for their September 28, 2015 meeting, which listed Fayette County’s CEFP Amendment under “Consent Agenda,” which caused the Petitioners and other knowledgeable residents of Fayette County to be under the impression that the review of the CEFP Amendment was merely “perfunctory.” 

However, at that meeting the SBA conducted an in-depth review of the academic merits and funding requirements of the CEFP Amendment, under an unnoticed “New Business” section of the agenda, in contravention of the published agenda.  After the inquiry and discussion, the SBA proceeded to take a vote to disapprove Fayette County’s CEFP Amendment.  Petitioners and Mr. George had been under the belief that, “because of past practices of the SBA, this was a perfunctory matter that would not require a presentation on the substantive merits of the Amendment.”

The lawsuit alleges that the SBA violated their legal duty of providing notice of the purpose of the meeting, and because the decision to disapprove the CEFP Amendment was made outside the context of a duly noticed meeting, the disapproval of said Amendment is void.  The lawsuit seeks emergency relief and asks the Court to temporarily enjoin the SBA from disapproving the Fayette County CEFP Amendment without first issuing notice that the SBA will consider the Amendment on or before the next SBA meeting.

Fayette County Commissioner Matthew Wender stated the following concerning the action, “Regretfully the County Commission finds itself seeking the last remedy to right the wrong being dealt to the youth of our County.  Unfortunately, Governor Tomblin has chosen to not take a position on the matter of the unprecedented action taken by the School Building Authority.  In absolute terms, our students in Fayette County have a fundamental right to a thorough and efficient education in a safe environment.”

Authorized for Release, October 19, 2015

Larry Harrah, Prosecuting Attorney of Fayette County

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