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Sen. Beach protests House bill to merge Pierpont College back into Fairmont State; resolution marks Pierpont Day

MORGANTOWN – The state Senate proclaimed Monday as Pierpont Community and Technical College Day at the Legislature. Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, who sponsored the resolution to make it so, also took time on the Senate floor to celebrate Pierpont’s achievements and protest a plan to merge Pierpont back into Fairmont State University.

SR 14 is the resolution, unanimously adopted. Pierpont, Beach said, “is doing wonderful things for northern West Virginia.” While it primarily serves a 13-county region, it draws students from 41 counties.

He noted, as the resolution says, that Pierpont’s culinary program is rated in the top four community colleges out of 1,105 schools, and the veterinary technician program is ranked in the top 40. Pierpont also was recognized as the number one community college in West Virginia by from Tulsa, Okla., for four years in a row.

“They’re doing fantastic things in the community and they need to be recognized today,” he said.

Resolution co-sponsors Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and Mike Romano, D-Harrison, noted some statistics. Rucker said 81% of Pierpont graduates stay in West Virginia two years after graduation and 75% are still in state four years after.

Overall, Pierpont has a 90% job placement rate. Romano added that the linesman and aerospace programs place 100%.

Beach resumed the topic at the end of the floor session, during the time for members’ remarks, recalling the 2008 legislation that created the state’s nine community colleges.

“Community colleges work,” he said. “We got it right. They need to be separate. They’ve got their own mission.” A vocational track mission is different from an academic track mission. “We’re putting these people into the workforce right away.”

He then turned to HB 2805, lead sponsored by Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, and co-sponsored by Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Education chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, and Speaker Roger Hanshaw, among others.

The bill would end Pierpont’s independence and make it a division of Fairmont State, called the Pierpont College of Community and Technical Education, effective July 1. The bill is before Ellington’s committee but hadn’t been on an agenda as of Monday.

Beach has been vocal about the plan on social media and said Monday, “We’re trying to fix something that’s not broken.” Pierpont has spent $2.5 million to complete its separation from Fairmont State and has done everything but physically leave the FSU campus, where it’s currently housed.

“They’re ready to make the leap on their own and stand alone and they can do it,” Beach said. And Pierpont is paying all its bills; 31% of its tuition revenue goes to pay rent to FSU.

Beach pointed out Pierpont has “2+2” credit transfer agreements – a nationwide model to smooth the completion of a four-year-degree – with 16 state institutions, but not with Fairmont State, which dissolved its last agreement with Pierpont in 2018.

Beach said, “It’s a poorly crafted piece of legislation. If it gets here, I’ll have lot more to say.” He hopes they can have civil conversation about any issues that may exist, such as FSU campus unity.

Other Senate action

The Senate also unanimously adopted another Beach resolution, SR 15, acknowledging the West Virginia Botanic Garden, outside Morgantown, as West Virginia’s flagship botanic garden.

Its 82 acres hosts weddings and educational outings, Beach said. It offers wildlife habitat, virgin timber forest, and contains walking trails. “It is a unique facility.”

The resolution notes that on May 19, 1999, the city of Morgantown leased its 82-acre Tibbs Run Property, former site of the city’s Tibbs Run Reservoir, to the West Virginia Botanic Garden Inc. to begin active management and improvements of the site for the gardens.

The resolution designates the Saturday before Mother’s Day this year – May 8 – as West Virginia Botanic Garden Day.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, co-sponsored both resolutions.

SB 404 allows the Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas to charge gas producers $2,500 to modify a well permit.

It wasn’t mentioned on the floor, but The Dominion Post has previously reported that significant revenue shortfalls have led the state Office of Oil and Gas to cut more than a third of its staff — including inspectors.

This bill has been discussed as one of the means to help the office increase its revenues. It passed 33-0 without discussion and goes to the House of Delegates.

Finally, Caputo also took a few minutes during members’ comments to talk about the restrictions on Capitol visitors during COVID.

He mentioned that Gov. Jim Justice has opened the state to 100% capacity for restaurants, bars, gyms and other facilities.

“I personally think that was a mistake,” he said. COVID is still active and continued caution is needed.

But given that Justice opened everything, “The people’s house is still not open yet,” Caputo said.

It’s still appointment-only to meet legislators, he said. “I think it’s time we open it up to the public” while continuing safe social distancing. “If everybody else has to go to work and deal with the public, we are not the elite.”

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