Amid bond defeat, Ritchie County Schools still seeking superintendent

ELLENBORO — Ritchie County Schools officials expressed disappointment over Tuesday’s defeat of a facilities bond, even as the school board continues its search for a new superintendent.

Ritchie County School Board President Ed Cokeley provided comments via email Wednesday. The district asked voters to approve a $7.9 million facilities bond which would pay for building a new school in Ellenboro, allowing the district to consolidate its three elementary schools — Creed Collins, Ellenboro and Harrisville.

The bond was defeated by a vote of 1,110, or about 46 percent for, and 1,304, or about 54 percent against. This marked the second defeat of the bond.

“I am very disappointed that the voters did not approve the bond issue that would provide a safe modern facility for all of the students of the county,” Cokeley said. “Fortunately the finances of the Board of Education are in the better condition than at any time during my tenure as a board member due to the tough decisions that have been made to date and the increased levy collections from the oil and gas industry.”

Outgoing Superintendent Rick Coffman issued a statement Wednesday saying he was deeply disappointed by the vote.

“I am heartbroken by the outcome of our school bond election because investing in the educational future of our children was an amazing opportunity to make a critical investment towards the future of Ritchie County and all of its people,” he said. “What a missed opportunity for educational progress that could have been made with hardly any raise in taxes.”

Coffman called the vote “an adult centered decision that was made for all the wrong reasons,” and said a new consolidated elementary would have benefited the students both in safety and services.

“Perhaps we need to take a step back and take a hard look at what is important and what kind of message we are sending to everyone concerning the importance of a strong educational system in Ritchie County instead of living in the past,” he said.

Cokeley said officials would continue to look at ways of improving facilities and academics for students. “The primary focus for our schools should continue to be the safety of our students and academic excellence,” he said.

Cokeley said there was little chance the bond would be brought back before the voters in November. Three newly elected board members — Denny Nelson, Ryan Reed and Misty Ingram-Keen — all ran in opposition to the bond and consolidation, he said.

The bond defeat comes in the middle of a search to replace Coffman. The board held a special meeting Monday to interview candidates and plans to meet again tomorrow morning.

“The Ritchie County Board of Education will have a special meeting on Friday at 9 a.m. for a second interview with one of the finalist candidates,” Cokeley said. “After that meeting, the board may take action to fill the position or to schedule interviews with additional candidates.”

Cokeley did not say which candidate would be interviewed. Last week, the board announced it was considering four people for the position: Deborah Bever, director of federal programs and special education for Ritchie County Schools; April Haught, director of personnel, instructional services and technology for Ritchie County Schools; David Dilly, superintendent of Braxton County Schools, and James G. Brown, director of curriculum and instruction for Pleasants County Schools. Brown also is the former superintendent of Raleigh and McDowell county schools.

Brown also is a finalist for the position of Wood County Schools superintendent. He and four other finalists are scheduled to be interviewed at noon Saturday by the Wood County Board of Education.