04 November 2008

Thoughts on the Nov. 3 Wise County hearing on closing schools.

Last night I attended and spoke at the Wise County School Board's public hearing in regards to closing six community schools and building new schools for three towns in the county.  I no longer call it "consolidation" because it is apparent that this board does not care if the students from the towns that will be without schools even go to the new schools.  The board and many people from the town of Wise could care less if the students of Pound, Appalachia, Powell Valley and St. Paul come to these new buildings.  They just want their new buildings and their big sports teams and students be damned.

I went up to the microphone last night and blabbed on about my opinions.  I had a written script I wanted to use but I was so fired up that I immediately abandoned it.  I really don't even remember what I said.  I may have sounded like a drunk for all I know.  When board member Thompson told me I had thirty seconds left to speak I just got faster and louder.  When he told me my time was up I got even faster and louder.  I apologize for that.  It was disrespectful to the other people that wanted to speak.  However, if I had it to do over, I would have talked even more.  I just would have been more focused.  Too much is at stake.  I won't blab on about it again in this post.  You can read much of my opinion on it here.

There were a few things that stood out to me at the meeting.  
Where are the people of Coeburn?  Where are you?  Do you not care.?  Are you just waiting on your new school?  I did not see one person from Coeburn.  Maybe I missed one.  I was not keeping score but still, does it not matter to them? School closing supporters from Wise were there but not in any kind of impressive number considering it was in their own auditorium.  I left work early and traveled all the way from Russel County to be there.  Where were you Coeburn?  It's practically your back yard.  And yes, there were people from Wise that are against the school closings.

I was very impressed by the kids that spoke.  Again, I did not take score and I'm sure there were kids from all over the county but I was especially impressed by the kids from Appalachia and St. Paul.  The best prepared statements and the only statements with any kind of legitimate numbers and facts all came from high school kids.  Apparently, Appalachia and St. Paul High Schools are doing something right.  Apparently computers and the Internet work just as well in old buildings as new.

I also want to point out my disappointment with area news outlets, at least on television and the Internet.  So far I have found only two articles about the hearing and it is obvious that both reporters left after the first forty-five minutes of what was at least a three hour hearing.  Both reporters quote people from Wise who were for consolidation but they fail to mention that the red shirts quickly evacuated after the first hour or so and it was almost exclusively people from Pound, Powell Valley, Appalachia and St. Paul against consolidation that spoke long into the night.  Again, where were you Coeburn?

It is also apparent that the school board has no plan or at least none they will reveal.  I applaud board member Monty Salyers for trying to answer questions but it is such a shame the board would give him no information to work with.   I can only assume that they intend to force the closing of schools and then use that to demand the money to build their new schools for Wise, Coeburn and Big Stone Gap.  This is going to be a mess.  This is going to get ugly.  We are looking at years of lawsuits.  The taxpayers of Appalachia, Pound, St. Paul and even the Powell Valley area have made it clear they will not pay for Wise, Coeburn and Big Stone Gap to have new schools while theirs are taken away.  (For those not from the area, Powell Valley High is the the defacto Big Stone Gap school but, from what I saw last night, many Powell Valley area citizens are not asking for a new school.   Sorry if that is confusing.  There are Big Stone Gap folks that want a new building but many that are attached to Powell Valley High that do not.) 

To the people of Wise.  Last night I was in J. J. Kelly for the first time in many years.  It looked about the same as I remembered.  Yeah, it needs some work.  It's and old school.  Just about as old as the school in Castlewood VA that was successfully remodeled.  While you have waited for years for your new big consolidated school, your kids have sat in a building in disrepair when they could have had a nicely remodeled building like in Castlewood.  Shame on the school board for not fixing the buildings already.  Shame on the citizens for not forcing them to act. 

I really, really, really hate to look at this as us vs. them.  I really don't want this to be Wise, Coeburn and Big Stone Gap against the rest of the county but, I'm sad to say that is what it is.  The board members for the school closings are from Wise, Coeburn and Big Stone Gap and the pro-school closing folks that spoke out from those towns made it painfully obvious that what they care about is big sports facilities and big schools and students be damned.  It's very sad.  Very sad.

Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith
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