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Pictured, from left, are Councilman Jack Reger, Councilman David McCauley and Councilwoman Pam Bucklew. / (Photo by Katie Kuba)

City tables Upshur Schools request for building demolition, citing lack of cooperation from state after takeover

BUCKHANNON – City Council has tabled a request from Upshur County Schools to raze a dilapidated building, citing frustration with a lack of collaboration from the school district and the West Virginia Department of Education following the state takeover in June.  

At its Dec. 7 meeting, council members voted to table the request for the city to demolish a run-down residence at 21 E. Victoria Street until council members had the chance to meet with both the county administration – county superintendent Christy Miller and assistant superintendent Russ Collett – as well as a representative from the West Virginia Department of Education.

The request was for the city to supply in-kind labor – i.e., to tear down the structure at no cost – as it has done in the past. Upshur Schools would still be responsible for other associated fees, like the cost of disposal.

In a Dec. 5, 2023, letter from the school district’s facilities director, Tim Derico, Derico said the city had been “instrumental” in completing the demolition of two dilapidated properties on Victoria Street that would enable Upshur County Schools to expand green space, parking and playground space. He said the razing of the two structures not only improved the appearance of school property but also enhanced the area for property owners living near school property.

“Upshur Schools is again asking for the assistance from the City of Buckhannon to raze the final house on Victoria Street that the Board of Education owns to complete the first phase of this expansion project,” Derico wrote. “This house is located at 21 E. Victoria Street.”

City attorney Tom O’Neill presented a draft letter of an agreement to council.

“The city’s done this a number of times with the board of education over the years,” O’Neill said. “You have in your packet a draft letter agreement. As far as substantively, it has the same provisions as the prior agreements between the county schools and the city, and it’s there for your consideration.”

Councilman CJ Rylands asked how the board of education could make a request when it now has no power; however, O’Neill clarified that the letter came from the superintendent’s office and had been cleared by the state Department of Education.

“This is coming from the same folks who almost put under the WAMSB plan for school buses?” Rylands asked. “I’m a little indifferent.”

Councilman David McCauley said he was opposed to the idea.

“The perilous situation that the [WVDE] left us with during WAMSB and the absolute refusal to drop kids off in school buses that go right past the Stockert Youth Center so that we can help accommodate the public school children of Upshur County as part of our joint mission?” McCauley said. “It is ridiculous.”

“For this school system to hang on these obscure state standards and not allow the schools to be part of our community as they’ve always been, I’m opposed to further going out there and doing something for free when our reward is ‘no, no, no, no,’” he added. “It’s like, ‘What’s the question? The answer is no.’”

City recorder Randy Sanders, volunteer chair of the WAMSB organizational committee, explained the references to WAMSB and noted the conflict had not involved Miller, the current superintendent. Sanders said “clear solid agreements” had been established between the WAMSB Organizational Committee, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and Upshur County Schools, stating WAMSB participants could utilize the buses and facilities at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

“Then, when things went awry with the school system, the powers-that-be in Charleston as well as the interim superintendent, Mr. (Stephen) Wotring just ignored those and really refused to even read [the agreements],” Sanders said. “They just arrogantly told me no – we don’t want [WAMSB] participants on our buses … so we will pay further for that.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner said he’d met with Miller and Collett several times.

“Although I understand council’s frustration, I also believe that we need to consider, too, that we are in this mess because of who left us this mess – a previous superintendent,” Skinner said. “The folks that are here, they’re at the mercy of the state. I do believe they’re trying to do their best for our school system to get us back to a point where we can rebuild, not only financially but academically.”

Skinner suggested council table the item at the Dec. 7 meeting until members could meet with the current administration.

“Maybe they need to hear some of the frustrations from us, and let’s keep it positive,” he said. “I want to make this clear – this is a community problem. We are at a point where if we’re going to rebuild our school system, it is going to take more than just the current Board of Education. It is going to take more than just the people at the Board Office – it is going to take this community to rally behind our kids, our families, our schools to get this back.”

McCauley said the meeting sounded like a good idea, and Sanders agreed, saying he didn’t want to hinder the city’s current or future relationship with Upshur County Schools or the board of education.

“But Mr. Mayor, I would suggest when we do ask for further conversation on this that we ask the local superintendent to include Charleston representatives,” Sanders said. “They have a tendency to hide behind the state.”

City council agreed to table the matter until a meeting could be scheduled.

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