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Don Surber: In education, it’s a small world after all

By Don Surber, Editorial writer/columnist

Jorea Marple reinstated her lawsuit charging that the state board of education did not properly fire her as state superintendent.

Her lawsuit provides a look at how insiders run education in West Virginia.

As principal of the old Tiskelwah Elementary, Marple turned a troubled school into a National Blue Ribbon School.

The Kanawha County school board promoted her to superintendent in 1993. Five years later, voters elected a new school board, and she was gone.

Marple spent the next six years as principal of Garnett Career Center before then-state superintendent Dave Stewart hired her as an assistant state superintendent.

Stewart was Kanawha schools treasurer when she was superintendent.

As they sing at Disney World, it’s a small world after all.

Oh and her husband is Darrell McGraw, a darling of the West Virginia Education Association during his 12 years on the state Supreme Court and 20 years as state attorney general.

Garth Brooks may have friends in low places, but everyone knows it is better to have them in high places.

McGraw was on the court when the infamous Recht decision took control of education from local school boards and gave it to the state. The argument was that since the schools were imperfect under local control, the state should run them.

Thirty years after Recht, the schools in Putnam and Ohio counties are still the best in the state and southerm West Virginia schools are still the worst.

But outcomes don’t matter.

Money does.

West Virginia measures education by dollars spent, not actual performance.

The money keeps rolling in, even as the number of students declines. Despite a 10 percent drop in enrollment in the past 15 years, adjusted for inflation, the state’s education budget rose by 10 percent.

The state is 49th in per capita income but, 15th in school spending per student. However, the performance of our schools fails to match the money.

Over the years, the state has tried various expensive reforms, the latest being the addition of pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds.

None of the reforms seem to work. Why should they? If we fixed the schools, there would be no need for another expensive reform.

We may not have perfected a perpetual motion machine, but education reform in West Virginia has become a perpetual money machine.

State politicians are so good at milking taxpayers in the name of education that they have gone national.

After leaving the Governor’s Mansion, Gaston Caperton became president of the College Board, which sells SATs and other tests to students.

Under Caperton, the Board pushed the Advanced Placement test, which helps students get college credit for high school courses. The board’s marketing strategy was to have states, not students, pay for the AP tests, which increased sales as more students signed up for “free” tests.

Ka-ching.

In 2009, the tax-exempt College Board paid Caperton $1.3 million. He was one of 20 executives at the board who received $300,000 or more in salary and benefits that year.

The rival ACT Board paid its CEO $1.1 million that year.

Non-profit? Don’t be naive.

Each of Caperton’s successors as governor has ties to the education industry:

Cecil Underwood was a college president.

Bob Wise is the chairman of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Joe Manchin’s wife is the current president of the state school board.

Current Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is married to a community college president.

There is nothing particularly nefarious in any of this. It is just that powerful men follow the money and the power.

And that trail leads to the schoolhouse in West Virgina.

Which is why Marple is standing in that schoolhouse door trying to get her old job back -- or at least a tidy settlement.


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