By Bob Weaver

It was a sweetheart deal.

McDowell and Wyoming County school officials had to issue up-front money for Phillip "Pork Chop" Booth to buy replacement furniture for their flood stricken schools, at least $1 million. Paying in advance has been against the rules, but the rules were suspended.

"Pork Chop," a friend of now resigned Assistant Superintendent G. A. McClung, inflated the price of the furniture two to four times.

He replaced auditorium seats, kitchen equipment and other furniture that barely received flood damage and could have been cleaned. Oh, well, it's only taxpayer money. County school officials protested, but then complied. One county official said the system did not have the money to make the advance, and it was a year before they were paid by the state department.

Lots of other deals that have oversight by the State Board and Department of Education and the West Virginia Legislature, are under investigation, some internal, some not.

Sen. Jackson, the state's "education guru," has been a driving force behind the School Building Authority, the agency under which multi-million dollar deals are hatched to build expensive consolidated schools, while most educational "experts" across America have long decided large consolidated schools are a failed experiment. (See Hur Herald article "State School System Under Cloud - Where Has The Money Gone?" 11/21/02)

The consolidation movement has unfortunately been linked to the need to build modern schools or replace those that are falling down. Good timing, you could say. Somewhat like the situation in Calhoun, where the old school was in terrible disrepair.

Now, Gov. Bob Wise wants to appoint Jackson to the State Board, since he is no longer running for the State Senate.

If you think this not a political hot potato, think again.

Fayette County schools have been audited twice in four years by the State Department of Education, after the county was embroiled in controversy when the former superintendent tried to close eight schools. Some counties have never been audited.

Fayette's superintendent tried to hold a one-day public hearing on closing all eight schools. Parents sued and the court stopped the closures. They called the tactic "an egregious affront to the principles of democracy."

Linda Martin, executive director of Challenge West Virginia, says this is another example of the state running roughshod over people." Martin, who believes small community schools produce far better results, says Sen. Jackson represents the worst in the consolidation effort and is the driving force behind the building of $30 million dollar schools, sometimes closing community based exemplary schools.

"Yet the State Board, elected by no one, is trying to find a way to take over all the state's school systems," said Martin.

The system, with several ethical "back-eyes" and leaders who are guilty of stealing and others being charged, continues to roll ahead.

Continuing to embrace Sen. Jackson as an education expert and leader will not likely restore the confidence of West Virginia parents and taxpayers, but Gov. Wise will likely do it anyway.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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