Independent investigation of Brooke Schools needed

It is unacceptable for a public official to attempt to intimidate a critic of government at any level, including a local school system. That’s why members of the Brooke County Board of Education need to get to the bottom of a complaint that such an attempt was made.

Accomplishing that to the public’s satisfaction will require an investigation by someone not associated currently with the school district.

During their meeting Monday, school board members heard from Follansbee resident Deidra Parr. She said someone in the school system — no name was mentioned — sent nine e-mail messages to her employer, then attempted to cover up the communications.

Parr told board members the e-mails were an attempt to interfere with her employment and “intimidate me into silence.”

She had other comments, including one urging board members to “remove the bullies in charge” of Brooke County schools.

After listening to Parr, board members went into a closed session for nearly an hour. Upon emerging, they voted 5-0 to investigate “allegations levied against the superintendent,” Toni Paesano Shute.

As almost always is the case in such situations, board members would not comment on precisely what is to be investigated. Again, Parr did not accuse Shute of sending the e-mail messages.

Shute and the board have been under fire for months regarding pay raises granted to school administrators last year. The increases totaled $143,700 annually.

They also have been questioned by parents and students about issues ranging from problems with busing children to and from school to an inability to find a sufficient number of substitute teachers to adequately staff classrooms.

Just two of the five board members were serving when the raises were approved. One of the two, Antoinette Perkins, has said she did not understand the amount of money involved would be as high as it is.

All of the complaints being directed at the board come at a very bad time — the board has planned to ask voters to approve a levy in February. With so many unresolved issues hanging over the district, it’s easy to see voters rejecting any such call.

It is no exaggeration to state that many Brooke County residents have little faith in Shute and the board. Parr is far from the only person to have criticized school management. But, to our knowledge, Parr is the only person who has alleged in public that someone in the school system tried to intimidate her.

Even one such complaint is unacceptable.

Details of the board’s plan for an investigation have not been made public. Clearly, however, it needs to be structured in such a way that the school district’s critics have faith in its conclusions. Trust is critical — and, at the moment, is sorely lacking.