POINT PLEASANT - State Board of Education members declared a "state of emergency" in Hampshire County schools Wednesday, after an audit revealed that top Hampshire school administrators hired employees illegally and misspent state grants that former Delegate Jerry Mezzatesta solicited.
Hampshire schools Superintendent David Friend and Mezzatesta, a $60,000-a-year board office administrator, were named throughout a 33-page audit report released at Wednesday's state school board meeting in Mason County.
Hampshire board office employees told auditors that Friend and Mezzatesta "threatened, verbally abused and intimidated them." They alleged that Friend ordered them to do things that were "highly irregular."
One board office employee broke down in tears last month when she spoke with audit team members, fearing retaliation from board office administrators, according to the report.
"It was a breakdown of leadership at all levels," said state schools Superintendent David Stewart.
State school board members ordered him to launch investigations of Hampshire's hiring practices, grants and other "serious deficiencies" at the board office.
Board members also directed Stewart to send a team of education consultants immediately to Hampshire County and report back within 60 days. Afterward, the county will have six months to fix the problems or face a state takeover.
Hampshire County school board President Brenda Pyles, who attended Wednesday's meeting in Point Pleasant, declined to comment on the report.
"We need to show this to the rest of the board and go from there," said Pyles, a strong supporter of Friend and Mezzatesta.
The team of auditors from the state Office of Education Performance Audits inspected Hampshire's central office last month.
They found at least two state grants that weren't spent as intended. Mezzatesta helped to secure both grants.
A $100,000 "staff development" grant from the Department of Education went to pay substitute teachers. Most of a $75,000 grant intended for special education students went to seven volunteer fire departments in Hampshire County. Mezzatesta diverted the education funds to the fire departments, letters show.
"I'm sitting here with a grave sense of outrage," said Priscilla Haden, a state school board member.
Board members plan to demand that the grant money be returned, if investigators confirm it was misspent.
"It's state money. It's taxpayer money," said board member Lowell Johnson. "It's important that we send a message that when we issue a grant, it's to be used for the purpose for which it was specified."
The audit team also determined that Hampshire schools improperly sent leftover federal migrant student money to a Regional Education Service Agency in Martinsburg.
The auditors also targeted Hampshire schools' hiring practices.