CommunityAlert: Blankenship’s Advocacy for Purchase of Arbuckle Trust Land for Consolidated School
I would like to thank Mr. Blankenship for allowing me to attend this meeting. – G. Dave Ramezan, The Gilmer Free Press
A CEFP meeting was conducted the evening of Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 6:00 PM in Gilmer County Schools Central Office at which purchasing of 73.9 acres of Arbuckle trust land on U.S. Hwy 33W/119S of Glenville, WV (on top of Glenville Hill about Auction Barn) for a new consolidated Gilmer Elementary School was discussed.
Mr. Ron Blankenship, the State appointed superintendent of Gilmer County schools, adamantly championed purchase of the land.
His position was counter to the points that:
A) There is inadequate proof that construction of a new consolidated grade school at the Arbuckle site is the best option for the County,
B) A thorough evaluation was not made to objectively choose a broader set of candidate sites from which to choose for a new school,
C) There is underrepresentation of citizens on the controversial CEFP committee involved in making the Arbuckle land purchase decision, and
D) There is no guarantee that if Arbuckle land was purchased by the County that the State would fund construction of a new school.
Supportive Arguments For Four Previously Listed Points:
Point A: With the foregone conclusion that the Lewis-Gilmer Elementary School will be constructed and Gilmer County children from that edge of the County, and reportedly children from the Sand Fork area will be bused to that school, if we need a new consolidated school we must evaluate where it should be located.
Point B: It is questionable to conclude with blind faith that the Arbuckle trust land is the best site for a new school when there are countless other sites available for consideration. Any school child could use Google Earth to “fly” over the County to locate potential sites for a grade school. Mr. Blankenship rationalizes that a 70+ acre site is necessary for the eventual construction of three schools. How can he justify that conclusion given the County’s continual loss of population caused by our chronic lack of livable wage jobs? Then too, Mr. Blankenship justifies that use of eminent domain can be avoided if Arbuckle land is purchased. Is that a good enough reason to purchase that land when the eminent domain provision is always a legal option when a development is in the best interests of the public? Besides, it is understood that the appraised value of the Arbuckle land is $1,000 an acre (based on appraisal by a commercial property appraiser chosen by Mr. Blankenship after declaring the property commercial) but Mr. Blankenship settles for $1,400. Why, as a public servant, does he want to spend the public’s money that way when there may be a host of land owners willing to sell suitable land more reasonably for a new school or to even donate it for a worthy cause?
Point C: It was reported that there was inter-personal strife among original CEFP committee members and a number of them elected not to participate leaving a small group behind to recommend land to purchase. Is it not true that two of the voting members in that remaining group had a vested interest in the Linn and Arbuckle sites because purchases would garner personal family gain? In this regard, is it not factual that Mr. R. Terry Butcher, a local attorney and a partner of the Butcher and Butcher Law Firm, is one of two trustees for the Arbuckle trust and if that land were to be purchased he and his family would gain financially?
Point D: Mr. Blankenship proposes to use $115,000 of the County’s 1.2 million dollars of reserve money (Money saved for OPEB liability by Gilmer County Board of Education before takeover) to purchase the Arbuckle land (He noted since the state is going to take care of the OPEB liability, the money is no longer needed and can be used. He is also using this money to pay for 1/2 of over $300,000 for the 20 acres land being purchased for inter-county school. He mentioned the deed for this property should be ready to sign real soon). What if the State refuses to provide funding if the site is purchased? Is it likely that with the way the State takeover occurred with the ugly head of politics and under- the- table dealings, that Gilmer County citizens would ever pass a bond issue to fund a new school on the Arbuckle land? The worst case scenario would be for it to be purchased to remain idle off our tax rolls. Additionally, with existence of the County’s 1.2 million dollars of cash reserves, why would it not be wise to use some of it to shore up our existing schools until a professionally done, comprehensive plan could be formulated for ways to establish a truly superior K-12 school system in the County? Then too, why is some of the reserve money not being used to hire a badly needed 5th grade teacher at Normantown and Troy that Mr. Blankenship promised citizens he would look into?
There were twelve(12) CEFP committee attendees at the meeting, and those seemingly in favor of the Arbuckle land purchase are indicated with a (+) mark after their names, ones seemed to be uncertain are marked with (+/-), those with no opinion (~), and those seemingly not in favor have a (–) entry (according to this reporter’s consensus and view in the meeting).
• Ron Blankenship +
• Dave Bishop +
• Toni Bishop +/-
• Nancy McVaney +/-
• Sue Morris –
• Nasia Butcher +
• Betty Anderson +
• Joe Frasure +
• Martha Hicks +
• John Bennett –
• Connie Frame +
• Connor Ferguson ~
Of the twelve(12) CEFP members in attendance, eight(8) were current school system employees over whom Ron Blankenship exercised power, there was one(1) business person, two(2) former school system employees, and one(1) school system student to comprise an underrepresented community’s profile.
However, a formal vote was not taken and Mr. Blankenship seemed to signal that without the authority of a majority vote to authorize the land purchase, he may make a decision unilaterally. Also, he stipulated that if the land is purchased it must be done by July 12, 2012.
Regarding Sue Morris’s position, in all fairness to the widely admired philanthropist, she noted the land was not worth the price. She said the land has not done anything for past 20 years and will not do anything for the next 20 either. She also cited her husband as always saying that the land purchase was the best investment but again this land was too expensive and was not worth the price Mr. Blankenship wanted to pay. She also noted the county should not just spend the money because it is there. She said the money can be used for other functions.
The land on WV Hwy 5 W was noted as out of question because part of it is in the flood plain. With another on Camden Flats, Mr. Blankenship did not want to practice eminent domain. Finally, as a last option, the property across from the Auction Barn (Furr – McCartney) was mentioned citing not enough space.
Mr. Blankenship was not able to see a feasible land on one of his trips from Glenville to Normantown except in the Letter Gap area which he said was not big enough.
Finally, the CEFP Committee agreed to re-submit the application for the Gilmer Elementary School on Arbuckle property on November 01, 2012 to be decided by the SBA on April of 2013.
This quagmire leaves us with the question—of Gilmer County citizens how do we react?
Do we stand up united for ourselves and our children to stop this travesty or do we let the “elites” continue to exercise their absolute control?
The outcome is up to us, and fellow citizens throughout West Virginia are watching.
I believe the Arbuckle property is probably the best location to build a school because of its location and the ability to expand if needed. I realize the county is not growing but you never know what will happen down the road and it would be irresponsible to purchase property and then be unable to expand at some point. Additionally, it would also impact the travel of fewer students than building a consolidated school in Letter Gap. If I owned the property I would be asking a premium price for it as would everyone else if they owned it.
If I were the superintendent, I would ask Mrs. Butcher to remove herself from the committee because of her association with the property. From a PR standpoint it just does look good and she is a lightning rod for everything that is wrong in the school system. The bottom line is the school is going to be built as well as the Linn School unless someone with more clout than the people on GFP steps up and uses their influence to stop it. I think the county should embrace the two new schools because it is what is best for the students.
Comment by Roy Jones on 06.21.2012
It was stated “Besides, it is understood that the appraised value of the Arbuckle land is $1,000 an acre (based on appraisal by a commercial property appraiser chosen by Mr. Blankenship after declaring the property commercial) but Mr. Blankenship settles for $1,400.“
Your talking about $1,000 to $1,400 dollars an acre.. Where did the $16,500. an acre price come from for the Linn property? Who appraised that?
Twenty acres for $330,000…..and that is not an issue here? Amazing!
Comment by annon. on 06.21.2012
Ron Blankenship was terminated by Gilmer County BOE when they did not renew his contract as Superintendent. The same happened in Calhoun. His only interest is gaining political influence and payback along the way. He could not care less about what is best for this county. He didn’t care about his own. In what century and what reality are we going to build three schools? The purpose of a middle school is to separate them from older teen influences. Braxton County learned the hard way that putting the buildings on the same property did not work out. The Letter gap property was too small for three schools, two of which may never happen. If we get the money from the SBA it will only be for one and one K-8 school would solve many issues. I bet there’s plenty of land for sale at $1400 an acre but only if the state buys will that price fly and they only buy from the right people. Our money is burning a hole in Blankenship and friends pockets. I agree with Sue Morris on that.
Comment by The Writings on the Wall on 06.21.2012
What a conflict of interest by looking at the members list. What happen to the member who is benefiting from Linn school? Nothing to gain for her anymore? RTB is her attorney as well.
How could all these educated people not see the game plan and conflict of interests?
Comment by O My on 06.21.2012
Thank you Mrs. Ike Morris for your position on this project. You are right if anyone know anything about value of any land it is your husband.
Comment by WatchDog on 06.21.2012
Why is there a July deadline for purchasing property that has sat unsold for such a long time. That doesn’t make sense. It is certainly isn’t because of an SBA reuirement. Otherwise the money would not have been allocated for he Troy-Linn school before the property was bought.
Rather than waste the money to buy property before the SBA meets next year to select projects, why doesn’t Mr. Blankenship buy an option to purchase the property within a year.
The Coalition needs to retain a lawyer to determine if Mr. Blankenship can be held personally liable for wasting the money if he decides on his own to make the deal and we find out next year the SBA won’t fund another new school while Gilmer County hasn’t finished Troy-Linn. There’s no guarantee that Gilmer County will get money for the second school.
Comment by Still anon on 06.21.2012
This article states there were 12 committee members present. How many CEFP members are there total? Seems kind of odd to me and certainly a conflict when eight (8) of those 12 are current school system employees under the orders/direction/leadership of Mr. Blankenship. What would you expect them to say? They have to work and want to protect their jobs, of course they would agree with him. Two (2) are former school employees who probably fear retaliation in one form or another. One business person, who also is a former school employee and one of the “elites” that has been connected in this take-over to say she was not for it was a very smart cover up on her part. One student from GCHS, he still has another year to go in school the smart answer for him was no opinion. We need common, everyday average joe citizens with good common sense to serve not the ones who Blankenship has chosen for his and the elites control.
The object of this consolidation has absolutely nothing to do with what is for the betterment of the children of this county. It has to do with money, power, greed and control. The Butchers stand to make big bucks from this deal both from the Arbuckle Trust land and also the auction barn land. We have a nice High School that is sufficient now and in the years to come, we don’t need a new one. There are other sites suitable with less acreage which means less money, but if it is not the Arbuckle trust and Butcher land they lose BIG BUCKS. Nasia Butcher has no place and no business being one of the members of the CEFP when the land they are wanting to buy is in that Arbuckle Trust and is as much a conflict of interest as you can get.
Education needs common sense, but common sense doesn’t need education.
Comment by Let's wake up Gilmer County on 06.21.2012
Roy Jones,in your quest for citizens’ minds how about informing readers of any information in GFP’s posting which is incorrect and provide counter points to the presented arguments? Also, how about informing us how Ron Blankenship complied with WV School Building Authority rules for the composition of the CEFP committee? It is clearly stated by the SBA that a committee…“should include citizens who represent a broad-base of the community…...The ultimate goal is the ownership of the community in the plan and their enthusiasm to publicly support it in the community….“ Without any intent to criticize present and past employees of our County’s education system do you think that 8 (all over whom Blankensip had control)of them out of the 12 on Nasia’s committee fulfilled the spirit and the intent of SBA’s directions? It looks as if what happened with Blankenship’s approval was another example of the power class making up its own rules. Can anyone think about where this may go with triers of fact?
Comment by INFORMATION REQUEST on 06.21.2012
What’s wrong with the current high school? Heck, we don’t even have enough kids to fill it up and I think something like $5 million was spent remodeling it not that long ago. I am all for nice and safe schools, and I don’t even think a combined Troy-Alum Bridge School is a bad idea. But to build a new complex at the auction barn site is stupid. We are not Doddridge County. We don’t have a four lane Rt. 50 running through the middle of our county. We have a horrendously curvy Rt. 33. I live in town and have always supported bond issues, even the last one for two new schools…but one school complex atop the auction barn hill is crazy. What a waste of money. Keep Glenville where it is. Bring the Sand Fork kids there and to the new school at Linn, and build a new school at Normantown. That is the most economically feasible solution.
Comment by anonymous on 06.21.2012
If you think these educators are so smart, and have so much wisdom, just answer this one question:
Why would you build a school in Lewis County - - - when you have to go to Gilmer County to get TWO-THIRDS of the required 240 students to justify the build?
Does that not sound exactly backwards?
No wonder our West Virginia education system is in such a mess.
Comment by keep diggin' y'all on 06.21.2012
We have conflicts of interest, rules not being followed, corruption, misuse of public money, unethical conduct etc. Here is an idea. Why not involve Mr. Hough to at least file a court injunction to stop the Arbuckle land purchase? Individuals named in the injunction could include Ron Blankenship, Ted Mattern who is Mr. Blankenship’s state-appointed mentor, and Mr. Charles Heinlein who stated that he is Blankenship’s DOE supervisor. Mr. Hough could get positive press for his justified intervention and the County could buy time to get our school mess solved right. Why couldn’t our elected school board officials get the ball rolling to show some backbone on this one?
Comment by Mel Wright on 06.22.2012
The comment by Mel Wright gave me a good chuckle. Have Gerry Hough file a court injunction to stop the Arbuckle land purchase is hilarious. If Mel is being serious, he must not know that Hough is good buddies with all Butchers and is in cahoots and approves and agrees with them on this dirty mess. If he is being sarcastic, it is funny. Positive press is not a thing Gerry is known for. In this county it is all negative because of all the corruptness he does nothing about. As far as the elected Board of Education members, they were kicked to the side of the road a year ago and have no say whatsoever. It is not because of lack of backbone, it is because of political control. The BOE meetings minutes printed this week on GFP is the first release of any meeting since the state take over a year ago. ?????
Comment by ????? on 06.23.2012
I am curious if any decision has been made in reference to the purchasing of the Arbuckle Trust land for the new school (s) that the elites are wanting built at the site by the auction barn. The “Super” says it must be purchased by July 12, 2012. That is just ONE week away.If a person goes back and re-reads this article, it states “Super” says a formal vote was not taken and he seemed to signal that without the authority of a majority vote to authorize the land purchase he can make a decision unilaterally. Well, we all know the direction that road leads to is straight to the wallets of the Butchers. If their main concern is for the safety and betterment of the students of Gilmer County, why don’t they DONATE the land to the county? Then they can be recognized as doing something “good” for the whole county.
UNILATERALLY literally means “one sided”. In politics it’s often used to refer to a country taking action on their own without the assistance or approval of other countries - taking action one sidedly. The opposite is a multilateral - many sided. So Gilmer County is a unilateral county - one sided. Right?
This CEFP committee agreed to re-submit the application for the Gilmer County Elementary School on Arbuckle property on Nov. 01, 2012 to be decided by the SBA in April 2013. My guess is, the property will be purchased, the plan will be submitted to the SBA in Nov. it WILL be approved in April 2013, for we all know who has control both locally and state, the Butchers will profit big time, the “elites” will dance and prance and Gilmer County will remain a “unilateral
Comment by "How pathetic" on 07.05.2012
If R.T.Butcher, the Arbuckle land trustee, “arranged” to get the land donated, Gilmer County would still have a school site which we may not need in a location which may not be the best choice. There is more to it too. Would not RTB profit from doing the legal work and would not his land formally owned by Robert Butcher increase in value because of an access road, sewer, water,and electricity availability being provided to the area,at taxpayer’s expense? What about the Butcher land being made more valuable for RTB and the other heirs if building sites were to made on it if mountain top removal material from the Arbuckle pinnacle is used as fill? That is what happened to free million dollar fill at the failed housing project land below the IL Morris bridge? U.S. taxpayers paid for that fill to make the land more valuable for the seller. What we need instead of building a school is to get a study done by qualified school system planning experts to determine what needs to be done overall in the County to establish a show piece K-12 school system. Then, we can think about a new school and the preferred location if one is needed.
Comment by JD Sisk on 07.05.2012
To JD Sisk, your comment was right on the mark. I agree 100%. None of this is being done because they have our children’s best interest in mind. It is the interest of their pocketbook——-pure and simple. Yes, it will increase the value of the auction barn land and then they can sell it to the State Board of Education for the construction of a Middle School and High School and expand their wallets and bank account even further, at the expense of us, the taxpayers. This is Gilmer County greed of the controlling elites. Why do you think they will not do anything about the Principal at the High School which is one of the biggest problems with this school system. Principal Butcher/Attorney Butcher/land owners-Butcher.
Comment by Where will it stop on 07.05.2012
Blankenship was on the Board of Directors Minnie Hamilton with Kight for years. He was on the GSC Board of Governors as Superintendent of Schools and John Bennett never saw the seat with Butcher brothers. Desi Garrett was spokesperson for CUBE when they took the bus to WVSBA to fight for Toman and against Normantown and the Prosecutors Secretary was a member and fought against his own client the Gilmer County BOE. John Bennett seeded the CEFP Committee with CUBE members as he was told to do and our BOE didn’t pick up on it and approved them. CUBE has ran our board by not presenting a CEFP for years and they’ve ran Charleston BOE the same way. CUBE’s founder was political activist Roslyn Pope out of Georgia as a student civil rights organization to stop discrimination. The members here have used it as a tool to takeover our schools, fill their pockets and to heck with the rest of us. Doubt they ever knew how the organization was started but they liked the way the name sounded and it served their wants. Money and political favors those that benefit promise to convey. The Federal Government set up the CEFP committees and funded them in WV before 2000 and per usual WV Political hacks misuse it.CEFP Committee has been a special interest group made of Gilmer County CUBE not widespread community based members serving the best interest of students and their families as the federal grants called for. Conflicts of interest everywhere you look.
Comment by CUBE NEEDS TO GO on 07.05.2012
With months of talk and and mass confusion we still don’t have accurate information regarding numbers of Gilmer’s students who will be bused to Lewis County to get the number up to 242 for which the Linn school is designed. Is it not true that more than 50% of them will come from
Gilmer? School Board members, can you get the information to us or are all of you kept in the dark too? We hear that in the future State money to Gilmer will be formula based and we will no longer get subsidized at the rate of 1400 students although we have around 900. What happens when our money is based on actual enrollment after we lose students to Lewis County? Sounds as if we are in for lots of financial hurt thanks to WV politicians including the Manchins
Comment by Roulan Jones on 07.05.2012
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