Does Mingo County’s Plight after WVDOE Seized Control of Its Schools Have Implications for Gilmer’s
On the 15th day of February, 2005, an event of great importance to the educational system of Mingo County took place. The West Virginia Department of Education reportedly had found that extenuating circumstances existed in the school system, declared a state of emergency and stripped the Mingo County Board of Education of virtually all decision making power. At the time of this intervention a state department legal employee stated that two decision making powers were reserved for the local board. One of these powers was to approve the travel for students going on field trips and the second was that the board could deal with disciplinary and suspension problems. Howard Seufer, a prominent attorney in matters of school law, stated it very well when he reportedly made this statement: “There is no longer a Mingo County Board of Education.”
The local board has, to the best of my knowledge, complied in every respect in the use of this state given power. I say this in part because since July 1, 2004 I have been in attendance at every regular, special and statutorily mandated meeting and the local board has taken no action on personnel, finances, buying/selling of property, management of affairs or any other matter not approved by the state department. However, there are indications that the local board is supposed to complete and finalize projects over which it has neither the legal authority nor the resources. I believe we have a board dedicated to the tenet that we are willing to do our upmost to give to the children the best education possible with the dollars we have. Further, I believe this would comply with the West Virginia Constitution`s mandate for a thorough and efficient education for our children.
On July 25, 2012 I began my third four year term as an elected board of education member. How long the State Board of Education intends to maintain the control that it long ago (February 15, 2005) instituted in our county I do not know. Really this is, to me, not the thing that concerns me the most. The real issues are what have been the results during this period of almost seven and one half years of state intervention. While some may say it is too early to tell, it is my belief that it is not too soon to examine at least the issues that could help in future decisions regarding not only intervention but the legal, economic and social directives giving intervention the unbridled power that it has in West Virginia. Few, if any, would argue that state intervention does virtually eliminate locally elected school officials- indeed the question has often been raised, “Why do we remove only the elected component, the local board, from the school system?” I have asked this question without much success for a rational answer. Indeed, why would an elected body responsive and subject to the will of the voters (democracy as we see it) be the only thing removed when the power to change lies directly in the hands of the superintendent and the state department of education?
This is a very important question and it is one that I would hope the legislature will address in the very near future.
I do believe, and this may cause some to think differently, that the state has been in control of the Mingo County School system since 1998. This belief rests upon the fact that the state has appointed every superintendent since that date. Mr. Johnny Fullen was appointed by the state as interim superintendent followed by Mr. Ted Mattern, Ms. Brenda Skibo, Mr. Dwight Dials, Mr. David Roach and presently, Mr. Randy Keathly. Granted, the state removed the intervention status in 2002 but did not remove Ms. Skibo. In reality then Mingo County has been fourteen years without a local board appointed superintendent.
We must remember that the county superintendent is the Chief Executive Officer of the local school system. He or she has more decision making power than any other employee or elected official. Hiring practices, policy- making, evaluations, expenditures from the budget and numerous other powers belong to this person. The superintendent is appointed and is not elected. The salary and contract term are made either by the local board or in our instant case, by the state board. All of this is to say that if the local board does not have control of the superintendent it does not have control of the system. Period.
Earlier I used two very familiar words, thorough and efficient. These two words have had perhaps the most profound impact upon the educational system of West Virginia than any other two words ever spoken. Why?
The Constitution of West Virginia, ratified in 1872 with several amendments ratified by a vote of the people, used these two words to give utterance to the importance of education in this state. Article XII, the education article, begins, “The legislature shall provide, by general law, for a `thorough and efficient` system of free schools.” In this same Article XII, II A. the following definition is given as the goals of the system: A thorough and efficient system of schools may be defined as developing, at best the state of education expertise allows, the minds, bodies and social morality of its charges to prepare them for useful and happy occupations, recreation and citizenship, and doing so economically. ( Pauley v. Kelly, (1979).
The Pauley v. Kelly decision was the result of Janet Pauley filling a class action suit in 1975 against the Lincoln County Board of Education, alleging children in Lincoln County were not receiving educational opportunities equal to students in other richer counties of West Virginia.
On March 11, 1982, Judge Arthur Recht ruled that West Virginia schools fell short of meeting standards and that the funding system caused unequal educational opportunities from county to county. This decision is well known as the `Recht Decision`. On December 12, 1984, in the Pauley v. Bailey case, the West Virginia Supreme Court approved the West Virginia Department of Education`s Master Plan for public education in the state of West Virginia. In 2003, Judge Recht ended the decade- long period of educational reform by closing and relinquishing jurisdiction. However, Judge Recht in the Memo of Opinion and Final Order placed on page 15 of this order the following statement: “This court will not hesitate to intervene in the future, if it becomes necessary to assure that children of West Virginia are afforded their constitutional and statutory rights”.
Are there substantive facts and closets closed that might, in a clearer context, explain the rapidity the state board moves in stripping a local board of virtually all power when it intervenes? Whether the disclosures and information I want to share will open closets, it is my belief some may prove to be interesting.
When, on July 1, 2004, Mitchel Chapman and I joined with Mike Carter to form a `new` majority board, little did we realize that we would, literally and figuratively, cause mountains to be moved. It certainly was the cause for great expectations from the majority of the citizens of Mingo County. The decisions we confronted were huge for any board to confront. Many of the decisions made by the former board majority had, on the surface, the backing of court cases and the West Virginia Code. We asked for more time to study these issues. The former board had in fact at regular board meeting on June 21, 2004, approved several motions by a 4-1 vote. Mr. Mike Carter voted “no” on the two most relevant issues. The first issue concerned the motion made to approve the School Building Authority contract. This contract was approved at this meeting. However, the contract was postdated to July 1, 2004. Several letters from Dr. Clacy Williams makes reference to the date of the contract as July 1, 2004. The sitting board on this date did not sign or approve this contract. The second approved action by the former board on this same date approved the Schematic Drawings for the New High School and designated the architectural firm to do this.
It was later discovered that the Mingo County Board did not own the property upon which more than $100,000.00 was spent for drawings that later disappeared. Section 8 of the SBA contract expressly states that a clear and free title to property that is to be SBA funded must be in the board`s possession. Dr. William`s in a letter sent to the superintendent, Ms. Skibo, stated this was something that could be `worked out`. Another letter, after a title was obtained ( not clear and not free) on April 10, 2006, Dr. William`s expressed his elation over the fact that the state department had resolved the mandated ownership issue by securing a clear and free title. This clear title was later corrected in 2010 and did render mete and bounds requirements.
~~ William Duty ~~