Open for always
Traveling into Paden City on W.Va. 2 there are two signs getting the attention of passersby. Both signs talk about the same thing, “Paden City High School, Open for now and always.”
The signs are just a small way that school supporters are rallying around their school, a school that has been considered for closing before and could be considered again when the Wetzel County Board of Education completes their 10-year Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP).
Every county in West Virginia is mandated to complete a CEFP, which can determine what buildings are maintained and what buildings are closed. Currently the Wetzel County Board is waiting for more data before they complete their CEFP.
“We’re waiting on the enrollment projections,” said Wetzel County School Superintendent Bill Jones. “That will direct Wetzel County in a direction, facility-wise, that we’re going to be going in between now and 2020.”
After the report is complete, the board will then hold a public hearing to give the public a say. Jones is adamant that PCHS will be open for the next few years.
“Are we going to close it this year or next year? Absolutely not,” stated Jones. “There’s no way we’re going to be closing Paden City High School this year or next year.”
While it may not happen soon, if the enrollment figures continue to show a downward trend, Wetzel County’s CEFP could very well call for the closing of PCHS between 2010 and 2020.
“Wetzel County has lost, since 1990. almost 1,000 kids,” said Jones. “That tells you a story.”
PCHS is one of a handful of schools with grades seven through 12. Most have switched to only having grades nine through 12. PCHS has 142 students this year, with 25 graduating seniors and 29 juniors waiting to replace them. In 1999 PCHS graduated 58 seniors with 39 juniors.
Out of 127 high schools in the State of West Virginia, three of Wetzel County’s high schools rank in the bottom 15 for enrollment. These include Valley High School, Hundred High School, and Paden City, which has the fewest number of students among the three. Declining population is causing funding problems for Wetzel County Schools.
“It’s not just Paden City; it’s every school in this county,” said Jones. “We’re losing population, and when we lose population, we lose state funding. The bottom line is we cannot, in our present system, offer the types of programs that kids in the 21st century need. We’ve got some critical decisions to make.”
Those decisions could include consolidation, much like Tyler County. However, Jones is reluctant to say anything until more facts are on the table.
“I’d be premature to telling you it’s going to be this or going to be that because it’s not finalized yet,” commented Jones. “It’s something we’re not taking lightly, but I’ll be glad when the task is over.”
The signs on W.Va. 2 are the work of a committee formed by the Paden City Foundation.
“One of the roles the foundation plays is educational development in town,” explained Paden City Foundation President Rodney McWilliams. “With the scholarship program at the school we have a vested interest in the schools being there. The foundation was contacted and we elected to spearhead this motion that we needed to find the facts because we weren’t sure the facts were being made readily available.”
The committee was called the Cornerstone Project. This committee has been meeting and working on assuring people in the Paden City area that they intend for the public schools in Paden City to stay open.
“We put the banners up because we knew there was talk around the area that came from the CEFP meetings that there was a possibility that something else might happen-the something else would be a school closing,” said McWilliams. “In the meantime, we wanted to put these banners up to put people at ease. Lots of people are asking if anything is being done because they’re hearing rumors.”
While it is not known what the CEFP report will say, the Cornerstone Project is hoping that an effort is made to maintain PCHS.
“This committee is working on things to put in place to address the Board of Education in Wetzel County with the concerns of the general public in regards to a possible school reconfiguration,” said McWilliams. “Personally, I hope that option is not in that 10-year plan for them to even consider.”
Until then, McWilliams says it’s business as usual. The committee hopes to get a commitment from the school board for more than two years.
“This isn’t going unnoticed, people are working on it, and for the time being it’s the status quo,” said McWilliams. “We’re still open and intend to stay open. The fact that it’s going to be open this year or next year doesn’t mean a whole lot. We want it to be open for the next 20 years.”
Paden City Mayor Bill Fox is also watching the situation with great interest. The closing of the school would have a great impact on business growth and property values.
“It’s going to have a terrific impact on the city as far as I’m concerned,” said Fox. “One thing, if you’re trying to entice people to come into your community and bring in businesses, one of the things they want to know is what kind of school system you have. Then it’s going to have an effect on property values and real estate. If you have companies thinking about coming to this community, they look at schools, churches, and things.”
Even though the city itself has little say over whether the school stays or goes, Fox plans to do whatever is in his power to keep Paden City High School open.
“I’d like to be able to tell you there’s something we can do about it, but I’ll be honest-I don’t know there is anything we can do about it except we can’t just let it go by and not do anything at all,” stated Fox. “We’ve got to let those people know that we’re concerned and we want to maintain a high school here in town. If there is any way at all, we’re going to the Board of Education or anyone else that we can talk to and who will listen to try to get support to maintain the school here in town.”
The signs still stand along the highway, paying tribute to a school with a long and proud history. It’s a school with more history to create, says Fox, “We need a high school. We need the athletic program we have for our kids here. It’s just an unfortunate situation. We’re not going to just let it die and say “Okay, we just accept that.’ We’re not going to do that.”