Brooke Considers Consolidation

WELLSBURG – Amid declining enrollment and revenue, the Brooke County Board of Education on Monday will consider consolidating its seven elementary schools into four and closing Beech Bottom, Colliers and L.B. Millsop primary schools.

The idea was presented at a work meeting this week by Superintendent Toni Paesano Shute, who noted bringing the county’s primary pupils together into two new buildings is outlined in the 10-year comprehensive educational facilities plan approved by the board in 2010. She noted the board postponed the merger because it could pursue the consolidation of the county’s two middle schools without affecting the level of tax paid by Brooke County residents.

Shute suggested a transitional move that would involve bringing pupils in kindergarten through second grade together at Hooverson Heights and Wellsburg primary schools, which would be renamed Brooke County Primary North and South; and those in third and fourth grades at Jefferson and Franklin primary schools, which would be renamed Brooke County Intermediate North and South.

Pending approval by the local and state boards of education, plans call for the consolidation to occur for the 2018-19 school year, when the county’s new middle school is set to open.

Shute said the proposal is spurred by a steady drop in enrollment as well as declining revenue. She said the school district has dropped about 439 students during the last year, and the current enrollment of 1,024 is about 200 less than the declining number anticipated in the comprehensive plan.

Puskarich said overall revenue dropped $7.4 million in 2013 and dropped another $4.8 million in 2016.

Shute said she and others have worked to reduce the school district’s staff, with the retirement of older staff helping in that area. She said she doesn’t know at this time how many staffers will be cut through the consolidations.

“That’s the most hurtful part. It’s the human element that’s hard to accept,” Shute said.

Asked why schools were chosen to remain open or be closed, Shute said Hooverson Heights, Jefferson, Wellsburg and Franklin primary schools have adequate space to add pupils, if needed, while the other three have little more than a classroom for each grade or aren’t centrally located.

Shute said Hooverson Heights and Wellsburg were chosen for the lower grades because they are on one floor, though all seven schools are handicap-accessible.

She said no child will have to travel more than 7 miles to reach his or her school. She added none of the children will be riding with high school students.

“People don’t want their little schools pulled out of their areas, but it is what it is because of the enrollment issue. You can’t maintain this number of schools and remain financially solvent,” board of education President Brian Ferguson said.

Pending the board’s approval on Monday, Shute will seek the state’s approval to amend the comprehensive plan in mid-September. After that, the board must hold public hearings at all seven schools.