THE SBA OPERATING AGAINST PUBLIC WILL AND GOOD SENSE
(See also: The SBA: Institutionalizing Crap)
The creation of the West Virginia state School Building Authority (SBA) about two decades ago has taken power away from the people. The SBA makes an end run around the public by way of the state and federal money it gives out, often for unpopular school closing and consolidation projects, such as the new consolidated “green” elementary school slated for the WV 705 & US 119 intersection in Morgantown. Such SBA projects are pushed by local officials who thereby satisfy local and state monied interests and powers, including the SBA itself, of which the state Governor is President. Accommodating the dictates of the SBA advances careers.
The SBA often forces school districts to take care of multiple issues in one fell swoop (consolidation): no vote required, the public taken out of the process. Voters are often reasonably unwilling to vote for local bonds to close and consolidate neighborhood schools rather than to rebuild them, or to fix them. The SBA makes the public superfluous. For a school district who has a marginally competent or lousy, unpopular, untrustworthy superintendent who therefore cannot or will not attempt to get a bond passed for even worthy projects, the state SBA can simply provide the money desired by local developers and unpopular and negligent administrators and at least appear to be addressing real problems. The power to decide what schools go where and when was taken away from the public by the creation of the SBA. By partnering implicitly or explicitly with a local administrator and an impotent or complicit or negligent school board, the SBA simply ignores public will and knowledge and keeps money circulating at public expense but against public will, and often against best knowledge and practices.
For such unpopular and destructive maneuvering, the ideal leader becomes a local smooth talker to try to pretty up the proceedings, or even to try to dupe the local populace. Securing SBA state funds naturally gets the local administrator in good with local land and business barons and state big shots. It’s sick; it’s systemic, undemocratic, corrupting.
As far back as her vital 1997 study, “An Economical, Thorough, and Efficient School System: The West Virginia School Building Authority “Economy of Scale” Numbers,” West Virginia attorney and professor Deirdre Purdy explained the degraded state of affairs brought on by the creation of the SBA:
The one- (large) size-fits-all school that the SBA funds proves neither economical, nor thorough, nor efficient, but there are other costs, social costs, that appear on no balance sheets and are calculated only in poorer lives for citizens who lose their local schools. All too often school closing proposals are unveiled at the last moment, and although the requisite public hearings are held, the decision has already been made (Howley, 1996). These hearings give lip-service to a notion of public input. The local board listens, but it knows what must be done to bring millions of dollars into the county schools: to meet economy of scale numbers, board members must vote to close small schools and build or add on to larger ones (Jones, 1993). A cynicism has been bred in citizens about their local boards as pawns of the state, about the individual’s lack of power over even their local board members, and about the relative unimportance of schoolchildren’s education and communities’ lives when put in the balance against state money and SBA power’ (DeYoung, Howley, & Theobald, 1995; Howley, DeYoung,& Theobald, 1996).
This describes some of what has happened in the case of the intended new consolidated green school in Morgantown, as efforts continue to stop the outrageous and negligent siting.