(03/21/2009)
By Bob Weaver

The firing of Gilmer County superintendent of schools Ed Toman is raising the ire of state education officials, according to Howard O'Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association.

The state's School Building Authority has sent representatives to Gilmer to declare three rural elementary schools, Sand Fork, Normantown and Troy have significant structural problems, indicating the schools need to be closed.

"There are predictions Gilmer County is ripe for intervention," says O'Cull.

O'Cull's statement comes after a 3-2 school board vote recently removed superintendent Ed Toman from his job.

Toman has been wanting to close and consolidate three rural schools and bring them into the county seat school at Glenville.

Three Gilmer board members have been staunch supporters of keeping community schools, some of them being elected by a wide margin.

"According to various sources, some Gilmer County leaders and residents are appealing for state takeover, probably because it would put the school board 'in its place' and would allow for the economical benefits that come from rearranging schools or building a new school to replace older structures," said O'Cull.

O'Cull points to a contentious and evolving history in West Virginia of state domination over duly elected school boards.

He points out that county boards and superintendents have divergent philosophies over closure and consolidation, both saying they are working in the best interest of students.

"And, of course, there is the entire notion of scarce resources, including how to procure and sustain money from state interests whose objectives may differ from county boards," O'Cull said.

He says centralizers have an advantage.

"Elites often shun, as they have for millennia, persons, including elected officials, from the wrong end of small-town political tracks who believe in simple democracy ... the ilk of county board members who, through no fault of their own, believe in simple voter will."

School boards have not done well in Mountain State consolidation battles, with courts upholding power given to the state by the legislature.

O'Cull says county board members who find themselves in this mix often believe their role is to accommodate what they think or assume voters "want."

In WV, "This notion presents its own trail of tears."

O'Cull says county boards face a perilous future in West Virginia.

He says the real issue is "who" will have greater sway regarding utilization of scarce resources?

"I know the odds favor the centralizers" O'Cull concluded.

Read O'Cull's complete commentary on the WV School Board Association web site   wvsba.org


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