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Opposition Voiced To Brooke County School Consolidation in Wellsburg

WELLSBURG — Parents of students at three Brooke County elementary schools targeted by board of education members for possible closure say the move would lead to unnecessarily large class sizes and long bus rides.

This week’s board of education meeting was attended by many opposing plans to consolidate the county’s seven elementary schools into four, but it heard from just one.

Beech Bottom Councilman Greg Sheperd told the board several factors didn’t exist when a 10-year plan to consolidate the county’s schools was developed in 2010. Sheperd’s daughter attends Beech Bottom Primary School which, with Colliers and L.B. Millsop primary schools, the board plans to close next year, citing declining enrollment and revenue.

Plans call for pupils in grades kindergarten through second to attend Hooverson Heights or Wellsburg primary schools, which would be renamed Brooke County Primary North and South; and those in third and fourth grades to attend Jefferson or Franklin primary schools, which would be renamed Brooke County Intermediate North and South.

Sheperd said since the plan was adopted in 2010, millions of dollars have been invested in the former Wheeling Corrugating plant, now known as the Beech Bottom Industrial Park, and plans are underway to build an Ohio River bridge between Beech Bottom and Wellsburg. He said traffic on Beech Bottom roads, already used by many trucks involved with natural gas drilling, will become busier when the bridge’s construction begins, affecting bus routes.

Sheperd noted Beech Bottom Primary School has formed partnerships with local churches and others for such efforts as the backpack food program that will be lost when the school is closed.

The board unanimously approved an amendment to its comprehensive educational facilities plan, which originally had called for all of the primary schools to be consolidated into two — one for the north end and another for the south end.

Board members said nothing about the decision Monday, but at a work session last week said the move was fiscally sound and the new configuration would allow school staff members to focus on the needs of the age groups they would serve.

Sheperd was the only attendee to address the board, but others were eager to voice their displeasure afterward.

Darlene Brennan, a member of the Colliers Alumni and Friends Association, said the school is a central part of the Colliers community and has long had a small teacher-to-pupil ratio that has helped it to earn such honors as being named West Virginia School of Excellence and, earlier this year, being nominated as a National Blue Ribbon School.

Chrissy Carbasho, president of the school’s PTA, called the planned merger “ridiculous” and said it will lead to pupils in unnecessary larger classrooms and on longer school bus rides.

Others noted the Colliers school building is the county’s newest school building and was among schools to receive a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in recent years.

Last week, Superintendent Toni 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.

Rachel Williams Carey, who has a child with special needs, noted such pupils in some cases have teachers who follow them through each grade and questioned whether that would continue under the proposed configuration.

Shute is slated to present the amended comprehensive plan for the state Department of Education’s approval later this month. Pending the state’s approval, the board must hold public hearings at each of the schools to be closed and at the schools that will serve the additional pupils.

The board hopes to gain final approval from the state in December.

In other business, board member Pamela Dudley said in light of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., she encourages parents to speak to their children about treating everyone with respect.

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