GENOA, W.Va. — Discussions of consolidating two elementary schools in Wayne County have resumed as a result of action taken during a recent special meeting of the Wayne County Board of Education.
Board members voted 4-1 in favor of the superintendent’s recommendation to initiate the school closure process for Genoa Elementary and Dunlow Elementary schools in Wayne County.
The vote authorizes Superintendent Todd Alexander to begin the public notice and hearing process for consolidating the two schools, which involves sending information to both sites on future public hearings before a final decision is made.
Missy Hall, Johnita Jackson, JoAnn Hurley and Randall Trautwein voted in favor of authorization. Dennis Ashworth, who is serving his first term as a board member, was the lone opposed vote.
“When a community loses its school, too many times they crumble. I don’t want to see that happen to Genoa,” Ashworth said. “It makes sense economically, but I’m not ready to say (consolidating) is the only option.”
If the two schools do ultimately consolidate, the individual schools would be closed and would reopen as one school at the school building facility currently in Dunlow, which has sufficient enough infrastructure to support the increased enrollment.
The school would also receive a new name, which has yet to be released. Board members generically referred to the new school as Genoa-Dunlow Community School during the special meeting Thursday.
“I want to make it clear that this vote is only allowing the release of further information and that no final decision, no decision at all regarding the future of the two schools, is being made tonight,” Hurley, the BOE’s president, told a group of parents and students who attended the meeting.
According to Alexander, Genoa and Dunlow elementary schools are the only two schools in the district with enrollment numbers of fewer than 100, having student populations of 61 and 78, respectively.
Genoa and Dunlow elementary schools currently have a combined 29 employees, which is projected to decrease to 21 if consolidation would occur.
“Once notification is given, then the proposition goes up for 30-day public comment,” Alexander said. “Once that’s complete, there would be public hearings at both schools and the chance for the community to provide input to the board members and address any questions they might have.”
Though talks of consolidation have made their rounds in years past, the vote comes as a harsh realization for April Parsons, a parent to three students enrolled at Genoa Elementary.
“I guess it kind of gets you fired up because it’s not just affecting us as parents,” Parsons said. “It hurts the kids (and) affects the staff that watch over our kids. To see these kids come home crying because they are being told their school might close is heartbreaking.”
Parsons said her family lives in the town of Wayne but chose Genoa for a multitude of reasons, but the most important factor was the smaller class sizes not found in many other schools in the district.
“I actually live in Wayne but drive my kids 20 minutes each way so they can get the education they do at Genoa. The small classrooms are what I like, and I’m not sending my kids to any other school but Genoa. I would probably end up homeschooling,” she said.
Renewed talks of consolidation surfaced in March after new enrollment numbers were released, showing a decline of more than 300 students across the district.
“Enrollment has continued to decline over the past several years and we know that consolidating two schools can be hard, but when you’re under a hundred kids in each building, that’s hard, too, especially when you consider they are only 11 miles away from one another,” said Alexander.
Two public hearings have been scheduled, one at Genoa Elementary on Dec. 16 and a second at Dunlow Elementary on Dec. 17. Both are tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m.
If either meeting should be postponed due to inclement weather or other reasons, the meeting would be moved to Dec. 19 at whichever location it was originally scheduled for.
Luke Creasy is a reporter for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @HDcreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.