Hard Lessons

The Wood County Board of Education took a step in the right direction Tuesday by voting 5-0 to pay 90 percent of the $455,000 outstanding bill owed to the construction company Grae-Con for its work on the Stadium Field home-side bleacher project. The remaining 10 percent will be held until an audit of the project is conducted by the state Auditor’s Office.

However, paying the bill is not enough. There should be hard lessons learned from this episode, so this fiasco is not repeated.

As has been the case in too many other instances, certain BOE members seem to be more interested in playing to voters and special interest groups and not doing what is best for the entire school system. It is highly doubtful the idea to fund the PHS project originated at 13th Street. More likely, it was being pushed hard by certain board members. Instead of trying to find other ways to pay for the renovations, which would have required the PHS football team to play all its games on the road this past season, board members demanded the team be able to play at Stadium Field. So members authorized the $700,000 payment to the PHS Stadium Renovation Committee with few, if any, strings attached. Certainly there was no BOE oversight.

The board is not totally to blame for what came next. The stadium committee, well-meaning volunteers who love Parkersburg High School, but who are more comfortable handling the proceeds from ice cream socials and car washes, were in completely over their heads trying to handle this multi-million dollar project.

And, Wood County school administrators tasked with paying the bills, did not do a good enough job in their oversight of the stadium committee. Administrators accepted the committee’s constant assurances that money was available for the work until the bills continued to pile up.

Tuesday, however, the board did the right thing by authorizing payment to Grae-Con, a local company who by all accounts, did exactly what it was told to do, and who has been more than patient while responsibility for paying the bill has been debated. And the decision to conduct an audit, while needed, seems more of a way for the board to escape any censure for what happened.

In the future, the board must remember its job is to be a good steward of the money provided by Wood County’s taxpayers. It will not take an audit to show that in this instance, it failed miserably.