The justices voted 4-to-1 to let stand a ruling by Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Paul Zakaib, who upheld a hearing examiner's ruling that the state Board of Education was obligated to take over Mingo County schools after receiving complaints from residents. Justice Joseph Albright voted to hear the case.
The justices agreed with Zakaib and retired Mercer County Circuit Judge David Knight, who conducted a four-day administrative hearing in the case in 2005. Knight said that the plaintiffs failed to prove claims that the state board acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it ordered an audit of Mingo County schools and subsequently intervened.
"The ruling confirms that we intervened properly and that we are moving in the right direction for students," said state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “Our hope now is that the local board will work with us and with Mingo Superintendent Dwight Dials to come up with a plan to provide Mingo County’s children with the education they deserve.”
Last year the state board declared a state of emergency in Mingo County, stripped the county of its accreditation status and seized control of the county’s schools following a report by the Office of Education Performance Audits. That report showed "extraordinary circumstances" in curriculum, facilities, finance, leadership and compliance as well as several safety and health issues.
The West Virginia Board of Education first intervened in Mingo County in 1998 as a result of budget deficits, low student achievement and a lack of leadership. Mingo County regained control in 2002 when leadership was restored. The 2005 audit report indicated Mingo County again was operating in a “confused and dysfunctional manner,” prompting the intervention.
The School Building Authority awarded Mingo County $6.3 million in 2003 and committed to providing another $11.1 million to consolidate Williamson, Burch and Matewan high schools into a new school as outlined in the county's 10-year Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan. That plan was developed in 2000 by residents and approved by both the county board and state board.
"The state Board of Education has always acted with the best interest of Mingo County students in mind,” Superintendent Paine said. “The facilities plan will help Mingo County operate within its budget and provide students with access to high-level courses that they need to succeed in college and the workplace in the 21st century.”