The Kanawha County Board of Education took an early step this week toward closing Cedar Grove Middle School.
The planned, but far from finalized, closure of the Eastern Kanawha school is just part of the school system’s move to drop from nearly 70 schools to about 60 over the next decade.
The school board voted unanimously Thursday night to request that the West Virginia School Building Authority fund renovations and additions to Cedar Grove Elementary, which shares a building with the middle school.
Board member Jim Crawford said the work would include tearing down the middle school portion of the building, and the middle-schoolers would be transferred to DuPont Middle. That school is a further 20 minutes west, by car, on U.S. 60 from Cedar Grove.
“It should’ve been closed a long time ago,” Crawford said after noting the number of students at Cedar Grove. This fall, enrollment was around 160; the highest it’s been over the past eight years was 176.
Kanawha schools Superintendent Tom Williams said the middle school closure will happen only if the SBA’s board grants the money when it meets, likely in April, for its most significant grant awards.
County school systems compete to persuade the authority’s board to give them some of the tens of millions of school construction and renovation dollars it hands out annually.
Authority staff say they anticipate having $51.4 million to disburse in April. A document Kanawha provided Thursday shows it’s requesting roughly $8.2 million from the SBA and promising to provide $2.1 million in local matching funds.
Even with the authority’s funding approval, the county school board will have to hold a public hearing and a vote on whether to officially close Cedar Grove Middle. The school system hasn’t announced a hearing date. That hearing before the closure vote is legally required.
Also, the West Virginia Board of Education would have to approve or deny the closure at a public meeting.
Williams said the current elementary school part of the Cedar Grove building would be basically gutted and rebuilt.
“They’d have a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] lab, their classrooms will be more suited for elementary school,” Williams said.
He said there wouldn’t be additions to DuPont to accept the Cedar Grove middle-schoolers.
Kanawha’s public school enrollment dropped 2,600 students over roughly the past five years. It had about 24,700 students as of this fall, down from 25,400 last fall. While the coronavirus pandemic likely exacerbated that one-year enrollment drop, enrollment has declined annually from 27,900 in the 2014-15 school year. The consistent annual decline started the year before that.
Funding from the state is generally based on enrollment, so when enrollment drops, a school district gets less money.
Crawford said closing Cedar Grove Middle would save the school system money on at least a principal and vice principal position.
“We only get so much money, and we have to spread it over all of this whole county and, right now, we’ve just got too many schools,” Crawford said.
“I was here when we closed a bunch of schools,” said Crawford, who’s been on the board for more than 20 years. “And I didn’t like that, but you know that taxpayers can only afford so much.”
Eastern Kanawha schools would be particularly affected by the consolidation plan: Five elementary schools on that side of the county would be consolidated into two, if the full plan is enacted.
Belle and Malden, and Chesapeake and Marmet, would combine. Midland Trail elementary students would be split between the two merged schools.