Editorial: Wayne gets second chance to deal with schools
The Wayne County school system is getting a second opportunity to address its most pressing facility needs, and probably a lot quicker than anticipated just a few months ago. Now, the county must make the most of it.
Last fall, county school officials had high hopes that voters would approve a $33.1 million bond proposal that, coupled with $20 million promised from the West Virginia School Building Authority, would build or make renovations to at least eight schools countywide. But voters overwhelmingly rejected the bond issue. They cited the higher taxes and dissatisfaction with how facilities had been maintained in the past and questioned the need for some of the planned improvements, such as new turf on athletic fields. The state money went away because the SBA prefers that local school systems also contribute to facility improvements.
That left the county with an urgent question. How could it pay for building new schools in Kenova and Crum?
The old elementary school in Kenova was shut down by the state in May 2011 because of a sink hole next to the cafeteria. Students in Kenova are in their second year in modular classrooms, with only enough funding to pay for the units for one more school year. The elementary and middle schools in Crum have major issues with heating and air conditioning systems, sewage system, basement flooding and cracks in the walls.
Earlier this year, the outlook was still not promising. The SBA reiterated that county systems should contribute to projects, and Wayne County had practically zero dollars to pitch in.
Things have changed, though.
This week, the SBA agreed to award a $250,000 planning grant to the Wayne County Board of Education, allowing the county and the state to work together on developing a financial plan for a new Pre-K-8 facility in Crum and a new elementary school in Kenova.
Part of the catalyst may be that Wayne officials have shown they are taking serious steps to build up at least a small amount of money dedicated to facility improvements by leaving positions vacant where possible.
But apparently the biggest reason for the turnaround was that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin decided to step in. Mark Manchin, the SBA's executive director, said Tomblin supported the planning grant and has pledged to ensure Crum and Kenova receive new schools. Work on developing a strategy will be put on the fast track so that if an acceptable plan comes forth, state money can be committed in December. That could allow construction to begin next spring.
The two schools combined are expected to cost about $33 million, and Manchin stressed that local participation will be required for this plan to go forward. That's what Wayne officials will have to figure out over the next few months -- how they can make a significant contribution to this two-school project without any bond proposal.
Tomblin's overture is commendable, and there's no question that something should be done to upgrade the schools in Kenova and Crum. Because of West Virginia's school system structure, both the state and counties are closely intertwined and have a shared responsibility to see that students have adequate facilities. It's good the governor recognized that the state could not simply walk away from these school building issues.
Now Wayne officials will need to continue showing they are earnest partners in this joint endeavor.
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