CHARLESTON- The fate of Nicholas County schools now rests in Judge Duke Bloom’s hands. The Nicholas County Board of Education sued the West Virginia Board of Education and several state parties after the state Board denied it’s consolidation request. On Tuesday, July 11 all parties came before Judge Bloom in Kanawha County Circuit Court to hear the case.
The Nicholas County Board attorney argued the county board followed all state codes and procedures, so their consolidation request should be approved. The legal team called former state Board members to the stand to explain the precedent set by Boards in previous years- to simply check that counties followed the rules correctly, and approve their plan.
But this state Board said they believe they should be critical and comprehensive in their review of county education plans. In the instance of Nicholas County’s request, the Board pointed to a lack of meaningful public discussion, little engagement from the Board at county Board meetings and no deliberation at the five public closure hearings. The Board also felt Nicholas County didn’t seriously consider any options beyond the plan for a consolidated campus on the Glade Creek Business Park.
The Nicholas County legal team also alleged political influence over state board members. The team pointed to Governor Jim Justice’s State of the State address where he said he hoped schools would remain in Richwood. Additionally, the team called former State BOE members Beverly Kingery and Barbara Whitecotton to the stand to testify. Kingery said after she expressed her support of Nicholas County’s to the Governor, her proposed position as Vice President was taken away, and she felt pressured to resign. Whitecotton said after she expressed concern about Nicholas County not getting on the state Board agenda, she found out Governor Justice had pulled her from the Board. Whitecotton says she was never given an explanation for her removal.
The topic of potential alternative plans dominated much of the trial discussion. State Superintendent Steven Paine told the court he was given a presentation by the School Building Authority after it’s Director instructed the School Planning and Construction Department to meet with FEMA and develop several school consolidation options. Superintendent Paine then presented those three options to Superintendent Tetrick and on a separate occasion with Nicholas BOE President Gus Penix and Nicholas BOE member A.J. Rogers. All three said they weren’t interested in any alternatives as their Board had already voted.
Nicholas County BOE’s legal team implied that many state Board members appointed by Governor Justice would not be able to vote independently, but the state Board members said that’s simply not true.
Attorneys for both sides now have a few weeks to submit final findings. The Judge will have time to review all evidence and reports, he will then rule in the following days.