W.Va. Senate proposes auditing school consolidations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) — School consolidation and closures can be one of the most divisive things to hit a community.

But a proposal put forward Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee seeks to add significant checks to the process.

Senator Amy Grady, R-Mason, teaches at an elementary school with 160 students. As such, it has been a consolidation target.

“I’m a big fan of small schools,” she said. “I don’t like consolidation unless there’s real, real evidence that it needs to be done.”

Senate Bill 229 aims to provide just that.

The proposal — put forward by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday — would require county school boards to include an impact statement with any consolidation proposal.

“It doesn’t say you can or you can’t, generally or specifically,” said Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier. “It just says, if you’re going to do it, and when you’re going to do it, go through this thoughtful process.”

The proposal would require counties to publicly report the impact of a consolidation on transportation time, projected financial costs or savings, projected enrollment in the new school, details of the increase or decrease in employment, as well as the overall impact on the community.

“I’ve seen consolidations over the years that, where it really destroys a community, takes their schools,” said Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association. “The school is usually the center of community engagement, and moving this school has really hurt the community.”

Baldwin, himself a former school board member, hopes forcing counties to gather more information will prevent a situation from unfolding faster than it should, reducing community division.

The consolidation impact bill is now going to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Education Committee has also introduced a bill in the Senate that would encourage schools to focus on family and consumer science – a subject many of us know simply as home economics. .

This legislation focuses on teaching daily activities, such as cooking, sewing, cleaning, small home repairs, budgeting and time management.

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