G-LtE™: State of the Mingo County School System (Gilmer County? Sound Familiar?)
Rex Non Potest Peccare - The King Can Do NO Wrong
I, William D. Duty, am the current President of the statutory corporation named “The board of education of the county of Mingo”. I point out that in many respects, the corporate character of the Mingo County BOE is, or at least is “normally”, similar to the corporate character of private corporations.
What I mean is that in private corporations, a board of directors is elected and charged with the sound management of the corporation. Most often, the actual day to day management of the corporation is done by and through a chief executive officer (or CEO) who is hired by, reports to and is responsible to the Board of Directors. If the profitability of the corporation, its overall financial situation, and/or its overall performance, is not what it should be, the CEO must explain to the board of directors why things are not as they should be.
If the shareholders (i.e., the actual and true owners of the corporation) are disgruntled as to how the Board of Directors deals with the CEO or how the Board of Directors otherwise addresses the problems at issue, the shareholders have the power and authority to elect new members to the Board of Directors.
In many respects, this system of accountability and responsibility is the essence of American capitalism.
It is within this general framework that America became the richest nation on Earth and the envy of the rest of the world. It has worked by and large because of a basic principle: those with authority not only have responsibility, they are accountable to those who ultimately pay the bills. This is what works and has worked for many, many, years. It is a system of what is commonly known as one characterized by “checks and balances”.
Before proceeding to express what I observe the current state of the corporation known as the board of education of the county of Mingo to be, it is necessary to compare and contrast some of the likenesses and differences between the “normal” corporate operation and nature of the board of education of the county of Mingo with the corporate nature and operation of private sector corporations.
The elected members of the county board of education are roughly analogous to a board of directors in a private sector corporation. S18-5-1 of the West Virginia Code states that “each county school district shall be under the supervision and control of a county board of education, which shall be composed of five members, nominated and elected by the voters …”
Thus, according to W.Va. law, county boards of education are, like private sector boards of directors, charged with and responsible for the sound management of their respective corporations.
In the corporations known as county boards of education, the county superintendent of schools can be likened to the CEO of a private sector corporation. According to W.Va. Code S18-4, county superintendents of school are hired and appointed by county boards of education and are accountable to county boards. In fact, S18-4-10 of the W.Va. Code clearly states that, “The county superintendent shall act as the chief executive officer of the county board…..”
Finally, shareholders in private corporations can change the way their corporation is managed by electing a new board of directors. Similarly, voters in county elections normally can change the way their school system operates by electing new members to their board of education. Up to this point, the above analogies appear to indicate that the aforementioned system of checks and balances would foster sound management principles in county school system “corporations”.
However, there is a caveat, a glaring dissimilarity between the private and county corporations; a fundamental difference which skews the abovementioned model(s) or system(s) of “checks and balances” to the point of non-recognition.
This contrast between the private sector model and the “county board model” is as follows: under W.Va. law, (and in spite of the language of S18-5-1 of the W.Va. Code), it is the non-elected W.Va. State Board of Education (not the elected county board members) which holds the cards; which is the ultimate authority; and which can and often does take over county school systems without any direct accountability to the voters – the true owners of county school systems.
In theory, takeovers by the State Board of Education of county school systems are to remedy problems which exist in spite of the “normal” operation of the aforementioned system of checks and balances. In effect, the State Board of Education can be likened to the ideal of a benign dictator – a foreign entity who supposedly steps in and corrects problems which local, county officials and voters are unable or unwilling to solve.
It is worth noting again that this “benign” dictator is not directly accountable to voters.
Nevertheless, the current system “is what it is” and it is not the intent of the undersigned to debate whether or not it works better than a “normal” system of checks and balances.
However, the corporation known as the board of education of the county of Mingo has been, to one degree or another, under the (abnormal) supervision/control of this “benign dictator” since 1998. Thus, the current state of the Mingo County school system at least reveals something about the efficacy of the “benign dictator’s” rule in Mingo County.
Since 1998, the Mingo County superintendent of Schools has been named by the State Board of Education. Thus, the CEO of the county school system has not been accountable to the elected members of the Mingo County Board of Education for more than 14 (fourteen) years. It nearly goes without saying that no board of education (or board of directors) can have any more than a superficial ability to effect the day to day management of a corporation when that board has no control over the actions of its CEO.
But again, the focus herein is not whether the State BOE should have done what it has done, but rather to briefly examine whether this “benign” dictator has remedied the problems it identified as its justification(s) to exercise plenary control over and of the Mingo County school system in 2004. (Again, the county school system had been under some degree of State BOE control since 1998. At the very least, it was the State BOE’s chosen county superintendent who became CEO of the county school system in 1998.)
Again, in 2004, the State BOE exercised its authority to “fully “ take over the county school system and thereupon effectively stripped the county BOE of its ability to exercise any meaningful supervision of or control over the county school system. Two of the most important of the “benign dictator’s” stated reasons for its plenary takeover of the county school system were/are to remedy alleged financial mismanagement by the elected county board members and to correct alleged unacceptable academic achievement/progress by Mingo County students.
Of course, these and/or the other alleged problems used by the benign dictator to circumvent the will of the Mingo County voters who elected the members of the county BOE were not at all attributed to or blamed upon the CEO of the school system. This anomaly is not difficult to explain, since the county superintendent/CEO was and is the “agent” of the “benign dictator”, (which apparently still subscribes to the outdated maxim of rex non potest peccare – meaning, the king (herein benign dictator) can do no wrong).
In any case, it is now time to take a look at what the benign dictator has done by examination of at least two of its stated justifications for its 2004 takeover of the Mingo County school system.
There are at least several standards or measuring devices used by the state of W.Va. to evaluate student performance/achievement. It goes without saying that the primary goal of any school system is to foster the development of young people into productive members of society and to do so efficiently. (In fact, every young person in W.Va. has a fundamental constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education.)
With regard to some of the most noteworthy of these standards, the results are as follows: In 2011, the average student ACT scores in Mingo County are lower than they were in 2004; in 2011, the dropout rate for Mingo County students is higher than it was in 2004; there are few, if any, indicators/standards utilized by the State of W.Va. to evaluate student performance that even imply that the takeover of the Mingo County school system has in any way improved the quality of education in Mingo County and/or otherwise benefitted the school children of Mingo County.
With regard to finances, the county school system was virtually debt free in 2004. Since 2004, the benign dictator has borrowed more than 3 million dollars – a debt payable by Mingo County taxpayers. The benign dictator chastised the county board of education in 2004 for having about 19 more teachers/professional educators and 42 more school service personnel than allowed by the state formula.
In 2012, Mingo County was roughly 44 (43.43) teachers and 52 (51.97) school service personnel over the state formula.
According to the State’s own figures the annual cost of the number of “over formula teachers” and “over formula service personnel” increased (from 2004 to 2012) by about two million dollars/year as a result. This 2 million/year liability is a cost to be borne solely and exclusively by Mingo County taxpayers.
The State Board of Education’s own audits very clearly evince that its actions show a profound disregard for sound financial management principles.
There are few, if any, accepted measurements of financial/fiscal stability that even hint that the financial condition of the Mingo County school system has improved in any way, shape or form since 2004.
More importantly, the taxpayers of Mingo County are now saddled with millions upon millions of dollars of debt and other obligations that did not exist in 2004.
In sum, it is difficult to comprehend how the “benign dictator’s” actions have in any way corrected alleged financial problems or otherwise benefitted the citizens of Mingo County in any way, shape or form. (Note: In spite of this dismal state of affairs, the CEO of the county school system remains in charge of the day to day management of the county school system.
In conclusion, the state of the Mingo County school system is not satisfactory. The actions of the State BOE have been predatory rather than benign with regard to the students and taxpayers of Mingo County. If and when the State BOE decides that it is time for its mismanagement of the Mingo County school system to end and that it is time to give back supervision and control of the county school system to the elected members of the Mingo County BOE, such supervision and control at a minimum must give the county BOE the opportunity to choose its own superintendent/ CEO and include some means to indemnify the Mingo County taxpayers from the (additional) financial liabilities/obligations created since 2004.