Chris Schulz Published

State Takes Control Of Upshur County Schools

A vacant classroom with rows of wooden desks and chairs.Arria Belli/Wikimedia Commons

The West Virginia Board of Education has declared a state of emergency in Upshur County Schools. 

A “special circumstances” review of Upshur County Schools by the West Virginia Department of Education revealed tens of thousands of dollars in misspent federal funds, among other financial misappropriations.

A preliminary report was presented to the board Wednesday by Jeffrey Kelley, accountability officer for the Department of Education. The findings Kelley presented included food and beverage charges for staff retreats at Stonewall Resort totaling $49,260 using funds designated for federal programs.

“(The) team also discovered an instance of a contract for a staff retreat at a bread and breakfast in Buckhannon totaling $1,415.94,” he said. “Overnight accommodation was provided at the bed and breakfast, which is located six miles from the board office.”

Nancy White, state board vice president, said the report is incomplete but concerning. 

“I believe we have enough that tells us that these actions are very egregious, unethical and perhaps criminal,” she said.

However, there were questions from the state board about the timeline of the investigation, and why they were not notified sooner. State Superintendent David Roach told the board the special circumstances review was prompted after a routine review of Upshur County Schools in December 2022 that was completed in February 2023.

“I’m just trying to establish some baseline facts because my concern is, we’ve known about this since March,” said board president Paul Hardesty. “No action, no activity, no nothing, no correspondence with this board until May the 26th. I find that troubling on numerous fronts.”

The board went into executive session due to the incomplete nature of the report and the desire to delve deeper into its contents without compromising the personal privacy of subjects involved.

After close to four hours in executive session, Roach made 18 recommendations to the state board, including that a state of emergency be declared in Upshur County Schools.

“That the West Virginia Board of Education direct the interim and future Upshur County superintendent and the Deputy State Superintendent 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 County Board of Education to regain control of the school system,” Roach said.

Roach also recommended the board grant the Deputy State Superintendent authority to take action necessary to correct the extraordinary circumstances in Upshur County.  

The board unanimously approved the superintendent’s recommendations. 

The office of the county superintendent of Upshur County Schools, along with positions of personnel who serve at the will and pleasure of the county superintendent, were declared vacant at the end of the business day.

Stephen Wotring, currently serving as superintendent of Preston County Schools, was named interim superintendent of Upshur County Schools. 

The investigation is ongoing. One investigator told the board only 1 percent of Upshur’s total transactional data had been reviewed so far.

Hardesty said that West Virginia State Police were sent to secure the central office of Upshur County Schools effective until the West Virginia Department of Education can get their personnel on the ground.