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West Virginia editorial roundup

August 21, 2019

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Aug. 21

The Journal on efforts to provide help to needy students in West Virginia:

Declining enrollment in West Virginia public schools is a concern, as state school Superintendent Steve Paine pointed out Wednesday (Aug. 14). Much more worrisome is another trend he pointed out.

Even as enrollment declined since 2000, the number of public school students in foster care nearly doubled, Paine told state Board of Education members.

In July, 6,940 Mountain State children were in foster care, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Pause to think about that number: Nearly 2% of the children in our state are in foster care. Legislators are worried enough about the number that they receive monthly updates from the DHHR.

We all know why so many more children are removed from their homes and placed in foster care: drug abuse.

As Paine pointed out Wednesday, children affected by the opioid epidemic, whether in foster care or not, are affected adversely in school. Many children still in their parents’ homes must cope with the emotional — and sometimes physical — side-effects of substance abuse by adults who are supposed to be caring for the youngsters.

Legislators reacted this year, through the much-debated education improvement law, to that challenge, among others.

As Paine noted, “The amount of money that was put in there for social, emotional and mental health needs of children — $30 million — that’s phenomenal. That’s a real commitment to making sure that we address the needs of those kids.”

Perhaps most important, lawmakers authorized more funding for professionals such as psychologists who can give troubled children the help they need.

Obviously, ramping up initiatives in that regard cannot happen overnight. State and local officials should make getting the new assistance on line as swiftly as possible.

Many of our West Virginia children need help. Getting it to them ought to be a top priority.

Online: https://www.journal-news.net/

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Aug. 20

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on 500 soldiers from across West Virginia who are headed to Kuwait for Operation Spartan Shield:

While we do not have an exact number, we do know that several local troops stationed at the Brushfork Armory as part of the 1st Squadron, 150th Cavalry Regiment (1-150th), will soon be deployed to the Middle East.

According to Major Holli Nelson, state public affairs officer with the West Virginia National Guard, the local citizen-soldiers stationed in Bluefield will be joining the team of approximately 500 troops from across the state in support of Operation Spartan Shield in Kuwait.

Nelson told the Daily Telegraph last week that the troops will be from units around the state, but she said the exact number of soldiers from each location, including Bluefield, cannot be released.

The 1st Squadron, 150th Cavalry Regiment (1-150th), has troops located in Bluefield, Holden, Salem, Red House and Glen Jean. Additional portions of the 1-150th are assigned to the North Carolina National Guard.

These 500-plus deploying soldiers will be joining forces with additional soldiers from Ohio, North Carolina and South Carolina, combining to create the 30th Armored Brigade Team, which will consist of 4,200 soldiers in total, according to the office of Gov. Jim Justice.

Justice, who met with the soldiers during a ceremony in Charleston last week, said units of this team will travel to Fort Bliss, Texas and spend the next 40 to 60 days making final preparations for their deployment to the Middle East. Their mission, as part of Operation Spartan Shield, will be to sustain theater readiness to conduct unified land operations and to support partner nations in making the region safer.

This is not the first time that our local citizen-soldiers have been deployed overseas.

In 2009, local soldiers from Mercer County joined forces with the Iraqi army in weapon cache searches near Baghdad. And the soldiers stationed in Bluefield also spent a year in Iraq in 2005.

Saying good-bye to loved ones is never easy.

Let’s keep the soldiers and their families in our prayers as they prepare for their latest mission overseas and count down the days to their eventual return home.

Online: https://www.bdtonline.com/

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Aug. 18

The Herald-Dispatch on a proposed method to improve secondary roads in West Virginia:

The West Virginia Division of Highways says it needs outside help in its push to repair the state’s secondary roads, which are deteriorating faster than the DoH can fix them.

Admitting there is a problem is good. The solution the DoH is looking at is not so good. Actually, it looks like a rigged system to help insiders.

According to a request for quotes issued by the DoH, the agency sought an “open-end contract for consulting services to assist with coordination and oversight of the governor’s secondary road maintenance initiative.”

The contract requires extensive travel statewide “to coordinate with both district and county (Highways) offices regarding roadway maintenance, status of road projects and related equipment needs,” as reported last week by Phil Kabler of The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Extensive travel also will be required to meet with “industry representatives” regarding maintenance projects. The winning bidder will serve as a “liaison of the agency with the Legislature and West Virginia governor’s office.”

The contract requires the winning bidder to consult with the state transportation secretary and the commissioner of highways, as requested, on “activities, complaints, issues and observations regarding roadways.”

Although the contract is open-ended, the bid sheet requires bidders to quote a daily rate of compensation for a total of 150 days.

All those activities sound like the kind of work that top officials in the DoH, which has about 5,000 employees, should be doing. But judging from the specifications listed above, the DoH does not have anyone who can perform this work. That raises the question: Why not?

It’s not as if the DoH is hurting for money to hire one, two or three people to do this work. This past session, the Legislature appropriated $104 million of budget surplus money to the DoH for secondary road maintenance. Also, the DoH moved about $140 million of Roads for Prosperity bond money to secondary road work.

In short, such work should be under the direct control of the commissioner of highways and carried out by DoH employees.

The state’s maintenance and repair of secondary roads has been a problem for many years. Rather than admit there is a problem internally and correcting it internally, DoH officials are handing that job off to an outside contractor.

When bids were opened Friday (Aug. 16), the apparent low bidder, according to Kabler, was a firm formed by two former DoH district engineers, and the contract specs appear to have been written to favor them. If that’s not insiders helping insiders, what is?

There is also recent history to consider. As has been noted many times before, recovery efforts from the disastrous floods of 2016 have been botched from beginning to end, in part because of reliance by the state and communities on consultants who have been paid well despite providing little help to flood victims. Remember the one consulting contract that started out at about $1 million and ballooned into a nearly $18 million contract? The state doesn’t need any more open-ended contracts.

Instead of allowing or encouraging supervisors and managers to leave the DoH and form a firm to feed better at the public trough, the DoH would do better to recruit someone to take charge of the secondary road problem or else promote someone from within and have that person directly responsible to the commissioner.

Hiring an outside firm is not the best idea, and using an open-ended contract that favors insiders takes it from undesirable to unacceptable.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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