CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) authorized the immediate intervention of the Upshur County School system as the result of a Special Circumstance Review that began last month. The decision comes after the Board received an initial report on areas of findings and noncompliance during its June meeting in Charleston.
The WVBE issued the following decision regarding the school system:
As a result of the Special Circumstance Review, it is the recommendation of the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) that extraordinary circumstances exist in the county that constitute major impediments to the provision of education programs and services for students, and that the Upshur County school system be issued Non-approval status. It is further recommended that since these extraordinary circumstances have been documented and currently exist, delaying the intervention by the WVBE into Upshur County Schools for any period of time would not be in the best interest of the students and staff in Upshur County in accordance with West Virginia Code §18-2E-5.
WHEREFORE, based upon the Department’s and State Superintendent’s recommendation and the report from the Office of Accountability and Assessment, the WVBE finds the following:
Extraordinary circumstances exist in the Upshur County School system;
1) That Non-approval status shall be assigned to Upshur County Schools;
2) That there is a state of emergency in Upshur County Schools regarding the information presented in the report;
3) That the conditions precedent to WVBE intervention in a county school system exist and delaying the intervention would not be in the best interests of the students or the staff of Upshur County Schools;
4) That the county board failed to act on a statutory obligation which interrupted the day-to-day operations of the school system;
5) That the authority of the Upshur County Board of Education shall be limited in areas that compromise the delivery of a thorough and efficient education to its students as designated by the WVBE by rule, which may include delegating decision-making authority regarding these matters to the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee;
6) That the WVBE declare the Office of the County Superintendent of Upshur County Schools to be vacant at the end of the business day at 4:00 p.m. on June 14, 2023, and that any existing contracts be voided, as necessary;
7) That the WVBE appoint Stephen L. Wotring to be the interim Superintendent of Upshur County Schools starting June 15, 2023, and ending at the close of business June 30, 2023, at a salary to be determined by the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee;
8) That the WVBE grant the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee the authority to hire a county superintendent to replace the interim appointment and set his/her salary;
9) That the WVBE declare the positions of personnel who serve at the will and pleasure of the county superintendent of Upshur County Schools to be vacant at the end of the business day at 4:00 p.m. on June 14, 2023, and that any existing contracts be voided, as necessary;
10) That the WVBE delegate to the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee the authority to fill positions of administrators and principals with individuals determined by the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee to be the most qualified for the positions;
11) That the WVBE grant the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee the authority to take action necessary to correct the extraordinary circumstances;
12) That the WVBE limit the authority of the Upshur County Board of Education as to finances, personnel, federal programs, and any other areas designated by the WVBE by rule and delegate decision-making authority to the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee regarding those matters;
13) That the WVBE delegate to the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee the authority to conduct hearings on personnel matters, the referral of investigations to other agencies and the authority to appoint a designee for the limited purpose of conducting hearings while reserving to the Deputy State Superintendent the authority to render the resulting decision, if needed;
14) That the WVBE limit the authority of Upshur County Board of Education as to the ability to conduct real estate transactions and delegate to the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee the authority to act in lieu of the Upshur County Board of Education in a transfer, sale, purchase, or other transaction regarding real estate;
15) That the WVBE delegate to the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee the authority to replace administrators and principals in low performing schools and to transfer them to alternate professional positions within the county at her discretion;
16) That the WVBE delegate to the Deputy State Superintendent or her designee the authority to fill positions of administrators and principals with individuals determined by the Deputy State Superintendent to be the most qualified for the positions;
17) That the WVBE direct the interim and future Upshur County Superintendents and the Deputy State Superintendent, after consultation with the Upshur County Board of Education, to jointly develop and present to the State Board at a future meeting a set of standards and/or a strategic plan that must be implemented in order for the Upshur County Board of Education to regain control of the school system; and
18) That the WVBE direct the interim and future Upshur County Superintendents to provide written and/or oral progress reports to the WVBE as requested.
The WVDE conducted the review at the direction of State Superintendent of Schools David L. Roach beginning May 22, 2023, to investigate several areas including:
The operation of federal programs through the use of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs and procedures for ESEA/ Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II Funds and American Rescue (ARP) funds. The latter two funding streams provided relief to school systems during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Financial indicators and purchasing procedures according to WVBE Policy 8200 which establishes the minimum requirements and procedures to be followed by county boards of education.
The WVDE Office of Accountability and Assessment continues the in-depth review of information collected from the county in order to generate a comprehensive report of all findings, recommendations and corrective actions at a later date. The preliminary report represents substantiated non-compliances available to date.
Instances were documented of the county using federal and other public funds outside of what is permitted including food and beverage charges for staff retreats, trainings and travel. The lack of travel policies and procedures led to non-compliances. Examples include overnight accommodations provided to staff for trainings held within six miles of the county school board office, and Title II funds used to pay for staff to attend trainings that were outside of their scope of work.
The lack of internal controls, sufficient county policies and administrative oversight in Upshur County resulted in a number of non-compliances and findings including staff not holding licenses or appropriate certifications. This included the positions of county treasurer and summer learning teacher.
The team also found numerous instances of compensation to district employees without county board approval including payouts for out-of-calendar days using federal funds. Among these areas of non-compliance were payments for executive-level staff who were already compensated for the days in question and received compensation above their daily rate. As a result, there was a misrepresentation of the county superintendent’s compensation in FY2020, FY2021 and FY2022 leading the district to underreporting that salary by $899.99, $12,335 and $37,763.45 respectively.
The WVBE and the WVDE have contacted state and federal authorities and have agreed to turn over to them all information gathered during the review.
The Upshur County review continues, and the team will provide a complete report to the WVBE upon its completion. To review the preliminary report, visit the WVDE website.