Waverly School discussion derails Wood BOE bond, construction talk

Wood County Board of Education members Ron Tice, left, board President Lawrence Hasbargen, center left, Wood County Schools Superintendent John Flint, center right, and board Vice President Jim Asbury, right, review documents and listen to presentations at Tuesday’s board meeting. Debate over whether Waverly Elementary School should be closed and consolidated with a new Williamstown-area elementary school became a sticking point in discussions of a $41 million bond sale and construction projects. (Photo by Michael Erb)

PARKERSBURG – Debate over the fate of Waverly Elementary School derailed a discussion of bonds and construction timelines at Tuesday’s Wood County Board of Education meeting, with officials saying the school must be addressed before other steps can be taken.

Board members disagree on whether a $41 million bond call approved by voters in November included the closure of the elementary along with Williamstown Elementary School to create a new Williamstown-area elementary. State officials have said the bond language was unclear and are requiring the district to hold a hearing on consolidation of the school.

Bond and financial counsel for the school system have tentatively scheduled the beginning of the bond sale for March 28, with the final sale occurring April 11. The dates are intended to allow the board time to resolve the hearing process for Waverly Elementary.

A resolution and order allowing the sale of the bonds was presented to the board Tuesday, and included a reference to closing the school. Board member Rick Tennant, who has repeatedly opposed the consolidation plan, argued the board could still opt to keep Waverly open, and questioned whether sale of the bonds could still move forward if Waverly did not close.

“I think the board has been very clear. It was clear the intent was to close Waverly” and Williamstown Elementary to create a new school, said Sean Francisco, legal counsel for the board. “The bond call wasn’t as clear as we would have liked it to be. It referenced it but wasn’t clear.”

Carrie Cecil, bond counsel through Spillman, Thomas and Battle, said while the bond did not specifically call for the closing of Waverly, it did include the creation of a Williamstown-Waverly elementary, and the enrollment numbers on the new school were created by combining the two schools.

Cecil also said the state Department of Education and School Building Authority approved an amendment to Wood County Schools’ 10-year facilities plan which included closing the existing Waverly and Williamstown elementary schools when the new school opens in three years. The only requirement from the state, she said, was for the board to hold a closing hearing for Waverly.

Francisco, however, said in his opinion that only requires the school system to hold the closing hearing for Waverly and is not dependent on the outcome of that hearing, meaning the school could remain open at the will of the board.

Board Vice President Jim Asbury, who headed Tuesday’s meeting at the request of board President Lawrence Hasbargen who attended but was feeling ill, said the continuing debate over Waverly is keeping the board from making other decisions on the project. Asbury has said the intent to close Waverly as part of the project has been well-documented and was included in the spirit of the bond which was approved by nearly 59 percent of voters.

“Waverly school closure has to happen or not prior to us moving forward on any other issues,” Asbury said. “If Waverly is such a question, would the bond even be legal if that was taken out?”

Asbury asked if the board would need to get an outside legal opinion or return to the state for clarification.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Cecil said. “I think that only happens if you have the hearing, hear the feedback from the public and you as a board decide you don’t want to close Waverly. We’re not there right now.”

Assistant Superintendent Mike Fling urged the board to move discussion of Waverly Elementary to another meeting.

“We’re discussing a closure that is not on the agenda,” he said. “We need to be careful with our open meetings laws.”

Asbury asked for the board to consider holding an emergency meeting to discuss how it intends to proceed.

“I think we’re wasting everyone’s time and money until we know where we stand on things,” Asbury said.

Superintendent John Flint said the board needs more clarity on a variety of issues in order to be able to move forward, and board members echoed the call for the topic to be discussed at another meeting.

“We need to sit down as a group and get this decided so we can move on to other issues,” said board member Ron Tice.

“I think we need to move quickly on this Waverly issue and get it behind us,” Hasbargen said.

In other business, the board removed an addendum item to discuss a personnel matter after Francisco informed them it could be seen as a violation of state open meetings law. The item was tabled and will be brought up at the next board meeting.