(03/24/2006)
By Bob Weaver

Pleading from teary-eyed students and their distraught parents was not enough to change the mind of the state Board of Education about closing Lincoln County's Harts High School at the end of the year.

The rural school is the victim of state mandated consolidation, but the closure is causing problems because Chapmanville High School, located in Logan County, is not yet prepared to handle the influx of Harts students.

They are facing skimpy quarters, janitor's spaces and crowded classrooms divided by make-shift partitions.

Chapmanville is expected to have an enrollment of 623 students, up from the current 492.

Harts parents and students wanted to hold-off the transition for one year until the new facilities are completed.

State board members expressed little empathy to the Harts group who traveled to the capitol to make their appeal.

State superintendent of Schools Steve Paine saw no reason to re-evaluate the Harts time line for closure, saying the school is the lowest performing school in West Virginia.

Paine said just 40 percent of Harts students were proficient in English, math, science and social studies on state tests in 2005, that figure dropped 10 points from 2003.

Thomas Ramey, Challenge WV fellow from Lincoln County, said Paine failed to mention that the state has been operating the system for the past five years. "No accountability here," he said.

Next year, Harts students will be facing long bus rides to attend the new consolidated high school in Hamlin or go to Chapmanville High in Logan County.

Steven Workman, a freshman at Harts, lamented "If they take away our community schools, what kind of community are we going to have?"

Following a three-hour discussion, during which about 20 parents and students pleaded that Harts not be shut down this year, Workman was one of several people in tears after the 6-3 vote to close the school.

Lincoln school board members, who have had their authority removed, asked the state board to amend the county's 10-year facilities plan to keep Harts open for another year.

"My biggest concern now is we're going to have to finance this [new] school," said Lincoln school board member Billie Frye. "We've got a beautiful new school we can't afford. Our treasurer says we'll be sunk."

In 2004, state board members voted to build the new consolidated high school at Hamlin, which opponents say is one of the most expensive schools per capita built in the USA.

State Superintendent Steve Paine said he did not remember any promises made to keep the school open until facilities were completed.

The new Chapmanville high school was scheduled to open next school year, but voters rejected a levy, delaying the process.

Some angry parents said they'd be willing to leave the county rather than submit to the current options.


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