(02/10/2005)
By Bob Weaver

Besides Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address, it was a big day at the Mouth of the Elk.

- Former Assistant State School Superintendent G. A. McClung was arraigned on a 24-count federal indictment for improperly using his influence in awarding contracts, for which he was allegedly paid off.

The charges include mail and wire fraud, extortion, fraud against a program receiving federal funds and filing false tax returns for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002.

McClung could follow in the footsteps of former State School Board President J. D. Morris of Clay, who was sent to federal prison for stealing school funds deposited in the Clay County Bank, where he was president.

- The powerful State Board of Education moved toward the take-over of the Mingo County school system for a second time, using a performance audit. The board has refused to follow the state's school consolidation plan.

Mingo County has hired Charleston attorney Jim Lees to fight the wholesale consolidation of state schools, based upon constitutional issues, a state agency overriding elected officials representing local taxpayers.

The state board stripped Mingo of its accreditation and declared a state of emergency.

The report reportedly cited deficiencies in curriculum and instruction, facilities, finance, leadership and compliance with state policies.

While student performance has improved in Mingo County since the first takeover, the state says financial problems have surfaced since the state relinquished control.

Ironically, state appointed superintendent Brenda Skibo is still in charge of the system.

Most of the Mingo board members say the state wants to close three schools built in the 70s and 80s, Williamson, Burch and Matewan, and build a new consolidated school on a strip mine site that the board is yet to own.

Bill Duty, president of the Mingo board, says the state's $17 million dollars is a drop in the bucket to construct the new school, which would be located 10 miles from the nearest highway. The proposed King Coal Highway would eventually be close to the location.

"With all the unknowns, a businessman or individual with common sense would not agree to the state's plan," Duty said.

Some students could be on a school bus to the new site for up to one and a half hours each way.

- The state Supreme Court refused to hear a case filed by a group of Lincoln County residents trying to halt construction of a consolidated high school.

The suit was styled to allow community members to be heard over what is being done to their school system by appointed state officials.

The suit would have overturned an earlier decision that said the consolidation foes did not pursue their claims in a timely fashion.

The Supreme Court voted 3-to-2 not to hear the case. Justices Larry Starcher and Spike Maynard voted to hear it.

In 2000, the state Board of Education seized control of Lincoln County schools.

Against the will of Lincoln's school board and a majority of citizens, the state board ordered the county's four high schools to be consolidated.

The new $32 million-dollar consolidated high school near Hamlin could actually cost $50 million, and is the most expensive high school ever constructed in the US for 800 students.

School Board president Carol Smith said the state-appointed superintendent has recently borrowed $1 million dollars without the approval of the board.

"Whatever happened to constitutional government?" she asked.

- Then there is the Hampshire County mess. The state board stripped that county of accreditation over a multitude of problems, many of them apparently linked to Jerry Mezzatesta.(SEE Hur Herald story)


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