Last week’s release of the audit of the handling of Parkersburg High School’s Stadium Field Project laid out in black and white what many already suspected: The Wood County Board of Education made mistakes at every turn in handling the project.
According to findings by the West Virginia State Auditor and Chief Inspector’s Office, those mistakes snowballed once the board committed the error of delegating control of purchases for the more than $2 million project. Stadium Committee, a private fundraising group that was an offshoot of Big Red Boosters, was given far too much authority in dealing with project costs and change orders.
Among the more disturbing lapses in judgment by the board were allowing employees to sign off on 27 of 28 change orders without a board vote, and allowing the cost of the project to skyrocket past the original contract using those change orders. The latter is a blatant violation of West Virginia Department of Education policy, and that violation meant the cost of the project went to an astounding $2,052,191. Those change orders that sailed under the board’s nose added up to nearly $900,000, according to the report.
Auditors also found the board failed to obtain proper competitive bids for the project in the first place.
Accepting offers of assistance and giving in to the temptation to over-delegate may seem like good solutions to the problem of properly handling such a complex project. But, as the Wood County Board of Education learned the hard way, sometimes if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Of course, in the board’s case, members were legally obligated to handle the situation themselves – or at least be fully aware of what was happening around them.
Costly mistakes added up to a painful lesson for the board, one they must take to heart. As new members settle in to their roles as elected guardians of both the education system and the tax money poured into it, this scolding from the Auditor and Inspector’s office should set the tone for more prudent oversight of resources and greater respect for the responsibility they have to the children and families of Wood County.