David L. Roach

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools to retire after facing tough questions related to the investigation into Upshur County Schools

CHARLESTON – West Virginia Superintendent of Schools David Roach will retire this month, according to a special meeting agenda posted by the state board of education meeting late Wednesday.

Roach’s decision comes after a tumultuous day in Charleston during which the superintendent was sharply questioned by West Virginia Board of Education members for the role he and former deputy superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus played in an investigation into financial issues in Upshur County.

Stankus served as Upshur County superintendent until she was appointed as state Deputy Superintendent in August 2022. She retired on June 7 of this year.

What began as a routine report into federal spending during the pandemic ultimately led the state board of education to seize control of Upshur County Schools on Wednesday. The initial monitoring report raised questions about various issues, including whether summer pool passes were a valid use of federal funding. Further developments led Roach to order a special circumstance review into Upshur County finances, which uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars of questionable transactions.

Read about the decision to take over Upshur County Schools here.

West Virginia Board of Education President Paul Hardesty told Roach the discussion involving Upshur County Schools was “nauseating and disappointing” after the superintendent initially failed to articulate a recommendation going forward.

“To the people of West Virginia, I’m embarrassed because of the way this is going on right now,” Hardesty said. “This is something that should have been done prior to coming to a State Board of Education meeting. I’m going to leave it at that. I want to try to be professional, to be diplomatic, but I have never seen anything of this nature in my whole 30-year educational career. This is Busch league.”

The board also questioned Roach about why Stankus, who led Upshur County schools during much of the period under review, was involved.

Laura Pauley, the Director of the Office of Federal Programs with the WVDE, said Stankus’s involvement in the federal programs review made her staff feel ‘awkward.’

“On our February 10 monitoring call with Upshur County, she actually joined the call as a deputy superintendent with the department,” Pauley said. “I’m not sure why. Normally it would just be for staff, but I think only one or one or two of their staff joined, and then she joined that call as well. So she would have been involved on that call. Personally, it made it kind of awkward for my staff.”

Pauley said that Roach had the review team meet with Stankus even after learning about their concerns.

“We initially took it to legal and Superintendent Roach, just because we were concerned with what we were seeing as potential implications that she was the one who would have approved what we were questioning,” Pauley said. “And then, after our meeting and providing documentation to Superintendent Roach, he had us meet with her, yes.”

“And [Roach] didn’t continue to meet with you?” state board vice president Nancy White asked.

“He left and asked legal to leave and had us meet with Sara, that is correct,” Pauley replied.

“My fear initially was that including Dr. Stankus at the very beginning compromises that investigation — seriously compromises it,” White said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Roach gave an exhaustive timeline of the various reviews, which began late last year. After issues related to non-compliance with federal programs were uncovered, the state superintendent began meeting with various groups, including officials from Upshur County Schools, state officials and legal counsel. He claimed Upshur County was ‘not truthful’ in their initial response.

“On March 6, we had another meeting. This time it was me, legal counsel, and federal programs, and at the end of that meeting, I suggested that Dr. Stankus be informed and be a part of that meeting, because we did not get the truth about the pool passes and the wilderness trail passes,” Roach told the board.

Information gathering continued into late April, when Roach began to discuss a special circumstance report. More documents were collected and interviews scheduled, and on May 22-23 an unannounced visit was made to Upshur County.

Hardesty said the state board was not made aware of the issues in Upshur County until May 26.

“The communication where you made the board aware that there were serious problems in Upshur County and you were going to do a special circumstance review was May 26, 2023, is that correct?” Hardesty asked.

“To the to this board, yes,” Roach replied. “But it was made sooner than that to my partners.”

“Well, you work for us,” Hardesty answered. “Let’s keep that in mind.”

State board members grilled Roach about the timeline, with Hardesty saying that things in the report could rise to “potential criminal actions” but the school board was not notified about the findings for months.

“My concern is we’ve known about this since March,” he said. “No action, no activity, no nothing. No correspondence with this board until May 26. I find that troubling on numerous fronts.”

State board of education member Debra K. Sullivan, however, asked why the board was even having a discussion before the special circumstance report was complete.

“We’ve been doing these special circumstance reports for as long as I’ve been on the board, and that’s been almost seven years,” Sullivan said. “And there’s a routine, there’s a protocol that is followed in the department.”

Normally, the report is finalized and the county is given time to correct issues, she said.

“I’m frankly mystified why we’re having this discussion right now,” Sullivan said. “I think that Mr. Roach is becoming the flashpoint for this when the problem is a situation in Upshur County Schools.”

Hardesty said the issue was why it took Roach so long to notify the state board.

“All the questions for Mr. Roach that have been asked so far today are in reference to a federal program monitoring report that was done February 10 and posted for the whole world to see on our website on March 14,” Hardesty said. “We cannot discount that the person at the epicenter of those findings was the deputy superintendent, the number two person in this department … And the question was asked, why was this not brought to the board until May 26?”

Roach’s performance review was on the board’s agenda Wednesday. The special meeting agenda announcing his retirement was posted a short time later.

Like Stankus, Roach will not finish a full year on the job. He was appointed superintendent in August 2022 when Clayton Burch transferred to the School for the Deaf and Blind.

The state board will consider Roach’s retirement during a special meeting on June 23, at which time they will also consider the appointment of a new State Superintendent of Schools, according to the meeting agenda.

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