State school districts

Misuse of funds

AP Exchange/Charleston Daily Mail

News stories about misuse of public trust by someone at a county school district have happened far too often in West Virginia over the years.

Most recently, the allegations come from Logan County, where former superintendent Phyllis Doty is accused of using education funds to help pay for her son’s wedding.

Surely, the investigation will continue and any misuse of public funds will be prosecuted according to the law.

But the allegations are another reminder that, for years in the Mountain State, some county school systems have seemed to serve as a spoils system and jobs provider for entrenched officials and their families rather than an organization that effectively educates the county’s children.

With consistently high per pupil spending on education yet low education attainment results in West Virginia, perhaps it is time to rethink the county school system model.

In a June 22 opinion piece, Daily Mail columnist Mark Sadd pointed out that government reformists are beginning to call for the consolidation of the state’s 55 county school districts into a smaller number of regional districts.

On the surface, that sounds good, as improved efficiency and performance in government should always be a public priority. But Sadd suggests that instead of fewer yet bigger and more powerful districts, the more effective solution is more school districts as in small, independent districts that could be organized within and across counties.

“Today, West Virginia has among the fewest number of school districts of the states. There are smaller, peer states with better public schools that have more school districts,” wrote Sadd.

“Four times larger in area than West Virginia, Wyoming, with 585,000 people, has 92,000 public school students spread among 60 districts. New Hampshire has 190,000 students among 288 districts. Iowa has 500,000 spread among 357 districts, or more than six times that West Virginia has. The public schools in these three states are rated much higher than West Virginia’s.”

While a county school system was mandated by the 1933 reforms, there is no reason to mandate smaller districts. The Legislature could consider legislation that would allow independent school districts to form, under parameters of assuring quality education, of course.

Yes, there are many good schools in West Virginia now with excellent administrators, teachers and staff, and many kids who seek it can get a quality education.

Yet there is still much room for improvement across our state’s public education system. State policymakers should study the success of states with independent school districts and give serious consideration to reforms that would allow for such systems in West Virginia.

Misuse of funds
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