Dickenson County Virginia Schools a Symbol of Failure

by Lewis Loflin

In 2002 I wrote the following:

Let's look at education and low priority it receives in nearby Dickenson County, Virginia. The taxpayers have spent almost $7 million in "industrial recruitment" (corporate welfare) first for Nexus that went broke then to set up call centers. Neither pays much and the way the DOT-COMS have done on Wall Street makes it risky. According to Dickenson County officials in the Coalfield Progress on May 22, 2002, "Dickenson County has a high rate of illiteracy.... Fifty percent of the county's adult residents don't have a high school diploma, and less than 10 percent of county residents are college educated..."

Yet unless we deal with adult illiteracy and general hostility from these type of people, their children end up discouraged as well. Dickenson County schools need as much as $30 million in repairs but money is spent to subsidize day care and training for Travelocity while the state cuts funding for local schools and fights to put "In God we trust" on school walls. I'm glad somebody is laughing.

Also see Dickenson County Virginia Schools Need Repairs in 2002 a historical record. There's little laughter in 2010. This is not to suggest in the least the students or teachers are a failure, but government efforts to fix problems that's impossible without political reform and an end to "good ol' boy" politics. After eight years and millions of dollars later nothing has changed, in fact it has grown worse.

What has millions of dollars in corporate welfare and pork-barrel spending under the guise of economic development brought Dickenson County, Virginia? They spent almost $2 million since 2002 to fix up Ralph Stanley's old house. Because it's a non-profit, pays zero taxes. They spent $10 million for free infrastructure and corporate welfare for companies like Travelocity to locate a call center in the County.

They promised 550 jobs, but got a little over 200 before the company pulled out in about 2 years. The company before Travelocity did the same thing, Travelocity merely rehired their displaced employees and fires them again.

The local economic development authority announced they had given up on the private sector. The present company in the facility (a government contractor) has produced about 100 $9.00 an hour jobs, and the facility still pays zero property taxes. The County also got a lot of government cash to setup an agricultural training center, even though there is little or no farming in the coal producing county.

See The Travelocity Fiasco in Dickenson County.
Grundy, Virginia and the $200 Million Bridge to Nowhere

What is the result of all this great economic planning from the pork masters? The County school population is in a freefall. Dickenson County "has lost 19 percent of its population and 38 percent of its student enrollment since 1980." Its schools are so bad they deal with crumbling asbestos in classrooms, windows bolted shut because of a lack os spare parts, electrical and plumbing nightmares. But at Ralph Stanley's old house they don't have that problem because plenty of tax dollars went to fix that up while the schools were starved for funding. To quote the local press on Dickenson County Schools,

In Dickenson County, where a shrinking tax base is blamed for the poor condition of schools and other county facilities, money has been more than a debate. It's been an impossibility, said Superintendent Haydee Robinson. "The money just wasn't there with the county's tax base," she said ... Dickenson officials couldn't imagine how they'd come up with the tens of millions it would take for a new high school, which is projected to cost much more than the school system's $28 million annual budget.

Across Southwest Virginia where they spent perhaps $1 billion in economic development and new roads since 1980 the story is the same. "Neighboring Buchanan County lost 40 percent of its population and 58 percent of its enrollment in the same time frame while they spend $200 million for a Wal-Mart, setup a pharmacy school, and several low wage (heavily subsidized) call centers. Across the region, Southwest Virginia counties lost 27,423 residents over the past 30 years." (BHC July 18, 2010)

Other counties such as Smyth and Wise are battling over consolidation as a way to deal with falling population due to the failure of economic development to produce real jobs for everyday people instead of lining the pockets of special interests. The Haysi school lost half its students since 1985 and is still losing students. To quote school officials, "There's no jobs, no new families moving in, no homes, no industry to employ young parents who have small children."

Hundreds of millions of dollars in pork spending has produced nothing and this is the proof of it. Haysi is slated to receive fiber optic connections as part of another $1.55 million broadband pork project. This latest waste still doesn't address the poverty and jobs problems. See Town of Haysi official website.

Dickenson County School Board moves to misuse flood control funds

Posted October 14, 2010

Dickenson County School Board voted to spend $102 million in flood control funds to replace their shattered school system. This "consolidation" will replace the county's three mostly empty high schools with a single new high school, build a new technical school, and a new middle school together at one site. The funding will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as I'm sure no more creeks will flow through the school restrooms due to failed plumbing.

In all seriousness I'm glad for the people of Dickenson County even if this is an abuse of federal tax dollars. Did I mention this came up just in time for front page headlines six week before the election?

After all Mr. Boucher has done a lot of great things for Dickenson County Virginia, which must be why the county population has plummeted and the schools are empty as resident join thousands of others fleeing the region. Mr. Boucher also claims credit for the County spending $10 million for 100 $9 an hour call center jobs with a government contractor. I guess locating in Dickenson County was part of the contract.

But not all is well in the Kingdom of Dickenson County, Virginia. The school board has been accused of backroom deals by some residents as the County wants to take their property for the new schools. Gladys Counts and her husband have accused the Board of wanting to take their property on Rose Ridge along with that of 16 other families that could thrown off their property by the $102 million "federal flood control project."

The Counts brought in a Norfolk attorney (seems no local attorney would take the case, but they're all friends up there anyway) and swore to fight the land grab in court. They claim the School Board colluded with Alpha Natural Resources because Alpha didn't want to give up the "preferred" location.

Alpha wasn't around at the school board meeting and hasn't been heard from, but the School Board Lawyers claim this is "absurd" and Alpha has the right to mine the coal anyway. (We can't use imminent domain against a coal company?) Let's declare it a federal flood control project and take the Alpha property on that basis. Makes as much sense as flood control.

Protecting Dickenson County Schools from Flooding?

June 2, 2010 Congressman Rick Boucher announced:

At my urging, the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Rural Development Agency is providing $42,150,000 to the Dickenson County Industrial Development Authority to address the flood protection needs of Dickenson County's schools. The financing will be applied in a manner to be determined by the County's School Board. The funds are being provided in the form of a low-interest, federal loan.

In January, at my request, President Obama provided $19.5 million in his annual budget for the Dickenson County school flood protection project. I am now working to make sure that these funds are appropriated by the Congress as we process the appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2011. When the appropriation is approved by the Congress, Dickenson County will use the $19.5 million to repay a portion of the $42 million loan I am announcing today.

Everybody knows this has nothing to do with the flooding, which last occurred in 1977 or 33 years ago. Isn't it interesting he comes up with this in an election year? And just what does replacing broken windows have to do with flood control? Their problem isn't flooding, but lack of employment and no tax base. This will fix neither. Of the $42 million according to Mr. Boucher,

Under current federal law, the Dickenson County flood protection project is eligible for 95 percent of its costs to be provided through federal funding sources. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the cooperation of Dickenson County is completing a Detailed Design Report (DDR) which will include specific items and costs related to the design of the plan that would provide flood protection to the County's schools. Once the DDR is completed, the County will formally undertake the plan and construction on the project can commence.

Almost three decades of this kind of nonsense under Mr. Boucher has left our region an economic basket case. Mr. Boucher was first elected in 1982. Posted July 19, 2010