(05/18/2009)
By Bob Weaver

The Lincoln County Board of Education is a step closer to regaining control of its school system after nine years.

State Board of Education members voted 7-0 for an agreement where the school board would regain full control within two years.

In 2000, state school board members took over Lincoln County saying the system was wrought with illegal hiring practices, shoddy buildings and poor test scores.

If the take-over was directed toward improving student achievement and outcomes, the effort would receive low marks. The county's graduation rate is in trouble.

The take-over carried with it a wholesale effort by the state to close and consolidate the county's high schools, and further divide Lincoln County which now sends about 150 students from the Harts community to Logan County's Chapmanville High School.

Despite long bus rides, the county has a new consolidated high school built under state control.

"I'm certain the state BOE recognizes the audit results are a reflection on the takeover, considering the local board members had all decision-making powers stripped nearly 9 years ago", said Lincoln County Board of Education Vice President Phoebe Harless.

State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine said he hopes all five Lincoln County board members sign a "memorandum of understanding" for the return of the system.

"As a taxpayer and mother of an elementary aged daughter, I am relieved my voice will finally be heard after nearly a decade of being ignored," said Lincoln citizen DeeAnna Rakes.

"After learning of the audit results revealing our graduation rate is only 79%, and the going to college rate is stagnant, not to mention several other disheartening numbers that have gotten worse since the takeover, I still demand to know why the state isn't taking the accountability since our local board is powerless," stated Regina Moore.

Carol Smith, president of the Lincoln County school board, said she has reservations that personnel would continue to be handled outside the county.

"The poor performance reflects on them (state), not on us," recalling media statements by state officials that have continued to be critical of the local board.

"We have had no say-so for nine years," she said, "As far as I'm concerned, it's been a failed state takeover," Smith said.

Two of the main stipulations of the agreement are that state-appointed superintendent Dave Roach would stay on for at least one year and up to two, and state Department of Education employees in Charleston would continue to hire and pay salaries of Lincoln school personnel.

"After nine years, two wars, three presidential elections and all five of our local Board of Education members being elected after the state takeover, the time has come to transfer control back to the people of Lincoln County," said board member Thomas Ramey.

Howard O'Cull, Executive Director of the WV Association of School Boards, says research has shown that state take-overs of local systems have, in most cases, been ineffective.

Ramey, who is also Executive Director of Challenge WV said, "My willingness to accept control comes with the acknowledgment that many problems still exist in our system."

Ramey quoted Dr. Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Prize for Peace, who said "What is done for the people without involving them cannot be sustained."


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