|By Dianne Weaver|
After two decades of mammoth school consolidation in WV, well over 100 elementary schools are still on the chopping block.
Regionally, schools in Gilmer County and Reedy Elementary in Roane County have been on the closure list, among others.
Neglecting virtually all studies that say children get the best education in community-based schools, a quarter of them have been closed in the 1990s.
The state's plan will place many of the youngest children, as young four, on long bus rides to consolidated schools miles away from their communities, in many cases causing bus rides of one-and-one-half hours or more each way.
"The School Building Authority has not given the health and safety issue of children the weight it deserves," said Challenge WV coordinator Linda Martin.
"The bloody hammer of school consolidation continues, but we do have some promise of legislation during the 2007 session," Martin said.
The legislature has failed to pass Challenge supported legislation that would curtail long bus rides and would give greater say to taxpayers in each county regarding consolidation.
Challenge Fellow Jana Freeman said "I commend Senator Robert Plymale for presenting the idea of legislation that would keep SBA dollars from being spent on new elementary schools, resulting in our youngest children being bussed over the guidelines."
"Parents across the state are looking for a remedy to stop the harm of long bus rides," Freeman said, "It is vitally important that this legislation be passed to protect them."
Elementary school closures have been lost in the larger scale high school consolidation fights that have been ongoing across West Virginia for over a decade.
"We must recognize the need to act now before our smallest children are bussed before daylight and home after dark," said Challenge Fellow Thomas Ramey.
"It is reprehensible for us to stand back and do nothing, a failure of leadership at every level," Ramey said, "No sensible person would go along with this. Our smallest children deserve better from our elected officials and state department educators."
Additional legislation that Challenge supports would include a bill to bring the term of a State Board of Education member down to five years.
At the Challenge WV conference last fall, it was discussed that the SBA guideline of economies of scale really doesn't exist, especially for elementary schools. The weight should be lifted from economies of scale completely.