School administrators across West Virginia have reneged on promises to provide students with advanced classes and save taxpayers millions of dollars through school closings and personnel cuts, an investigation by the Sunday Gazette-Mail has found.Instead, administrators bolstered their ranks over the past decade, even though school boards shut down more than 300 schools, and 41,000 fewer students now attend West Virginia schools.
�That�s an embarrassing revelation,� said Marty Strange of the Rural Schools and Community Trust. �That�s bad news for West Virginia�s children.�
The Gazette-Mail�s examination of school closing documents, personnel data and high school class schedules showed:
State schools Superintendent David Stewart said the increase in school administrators statewide was beyond his control. The state school funding formula pays for fewer administrators every year.
But county school boards have used local and federal funds to hire more administrators, according to state personnel data.
Contrary to what he�s said in the past, state School Building Authority Executive Director Clacy Williams acknowledged earlier this month that school closings didn�t save taxpayers money.County administrators spent the money to add more classes and improve educational programs instead, he said.
�If we can�t improve the education of youngsters, then I don�t care if we save a nickel,� Williams said.
In Wayne County, school administrators promised rigorous Advanced Placement Courses in 12 subjects when three high schools merged into Spring Valley High. Today, the 1,100-student high school offers no AP classes.In Roane County, school officials promised to provide four levels of Spanish and three levels of German when they closed Spencer and Walton high schools in 1993. Today, consolidated Roane County High offers just two levels of Spanish. (When they were open, Spencer and Walton high schools provided three levels of Spanish plus German.)
And in Pendleton County, administrators promised zoology, calculus, Japanese and 22 other advanced classes to students from the former Franklin and Circleville high schools. Only one of those classes, drama, is being offered this year.
�There were wild promises. We knew it was pie in the sky,� said Bob Bastress, a West Virginia University law professor who represented Circleville residents in their unsuccessful consolidation battle in the 1990s.BGCOLOR="#75bce4">
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Williams said rural school districts would be in even worse shape if they hadn�t closed schools.
�Just think of the situation they would be in if they still had those small schools,� he said. �At this juncture, they wouldn�t even be able to offer the core curriculum. They�re still way ahead of the game.�
Aborted study on savings
When the state School Building Authority opened its doors in 1989, school leaders predicted the agency would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
The SBA would give counties money to build schools, provided they met �economies of scale� � size requirements that encouraged school consolidation.
Counties quickly lined up for the school construction cash. In school closing documents, they promised to cut administrators and teachers, and pump the savings into classrooms.
By 1991, then-Gov. Gaston Caperton declared the school closings saved the state $47 million a year on maintenance and personnel alone.
But 11 years and more than $1 billion in new school construction later, no one at the state Department of Education, School Building Authority or state Legislature has checked whether the predicted savings materialized.
The SBA started a review in the early 1990s, but halted it.
�We just haven�t had time to do that work,� Williams said during a 1997 court deposition. �We�ve got 63 construction projects on our plate right now. ... There�s only so much you can get done.�
The SBA never resumed the study. County school officials wouldn�t cooperate, Williams said earlier this month.
�The superintendents didn�t get the information to me,� he said. �I didn�t push it. I just dropped it.�
The SBA has no records from the aborted study, Williams said.
The agency doesn�t plan to examine the issue anytime soon because of the �extreme difficulty and complexity of attempting such a study,� he wrote in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Gazette-Mail.
The savings from school closings are used to improve �other aspects of school operations and services,� he wrote. �To believe that efficiencies equal cash-in-hand is to be uninformed.�
The state Department of Education also hasn�t tracked the savings promised by county school officials over the past decade.
The department reviews county school closing documents, and the state Board of Education approves them.
The department shreds the closure documents and other records after three years.
Meanwhile, West Virginia education spending grew faster than most states in the 1990s, despite the massive consolidation drive.
The Mountain State�s per-pupil spending exceeded the national average for the first time in 1994.
Job cuts slower than student decline
For the past five years, state Department of Education officials have presented a budget report to legislators, claiming a sharp decline in administrators statewide.
They passed out a chart labeled, �Administrators employed,� which shows a 25 percent drop in administrators since 1987.
In fact, more school administrators work in West Virginia today than in 1990.
The officials� report left out administrators paid by county school boards, regional state schools agencies and the federal government. It only included administrators funded by the state aid formula.
The chart was mislabeled, acknowledged Mike McKown, executive director of the Department of Education�s Office of Internal Operations.
�We don�t want to mislead anyone,� McKown said. �There will be a different title next year.�