Legislative News

Overview

 

Inside

The Thrasher Group

March 4, 2016 - Volume 36 Issue 8

 

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.

By Jim Wallace

Several bills from the House of Delegates that would affect school boards and other aspects of public education cleared an important hurdle this week and are now in the hands of the Senate. Wednesday was Crossover Day, the last day for bills to get out of the chamber in which they originated. In other words, any House bills that did not get passed by the House and any Senate bills that did not get passed by the Senate by the end of the day on Wednesday were dead for this year’s legislative session.

Bills that cleared the House from last Friday through Wednesday included legislation to have a panel of experts pass judgment on the state’s standards, prevent persons convicted of corruption in public office from collecting their full pensions, set up regional meetings aimed at empowering county school boards, and give school boards more flexibility in using some School Aid Formula funding.

One of the most controversial bills passed by the House is House Bill 4014, which began as Common Core repeal legislation, got watered down in the House Education Committee and then received significant changes when considered by the full House. House Bill 4014 then approved the bill with 73 delegates in favor of it, 20 against it and seven absent.

One significant amendment to the bill would establish an Academic Standards Evaluation Panel, which would consist of two subject matter experts, one in mathematics and one in English/language arts, chosen by the president of the Senate and two such experts chosen by the speaker of the House. The panel would be charged with reviewing and revising the state’s current standards to “ensure grade-level alignment to the standards of states with a proven track record of consistent high-performing student achievement.”

The panel would have to complete its recommended revisions by October 1. The amendment also includes this requirement: “The state board of education shall adopt and implement the standards in a manner that minimizes classroom interruptions on or before the 2017-2018 school year.”

Another amendment would prohibit the state school board from adopting new science standards this year, as the board had planned to do.

House Bill 4014 was on the agenda of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday, but that committee spent three hours discussing a higher education bill regarding the move of West Virginia University Institute of Technology from Montgomery to Beckley and failed to get to the other bills on its agenda.

 

Ethics bill would punish people convicted of corruption.

Another bill the House approved is not strictly an education bill, but it could affect school districts. As House Judicial Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, explained to his colleagues, House Bill 4607 is an ethics reform bill.

“This one seeks to prevent those convicted of corrupt activity while in office from collecting their full pension,” he said.

Under current law, Shott said, one way a public employee may lose certain public pension benefits is if that person is impeached from office for a felony. He said another way it could happen is if the person is convicted of a felony for conduct related to his or her office or employment for which he or she committed that felony while holding the office or during employment.

“Current law, however, allows a person to retain their pension if they are charged with a felony but a plea bargain is entered to a lesser offense, reducing it to a misdemeanor,” Shott said. “For instance, if someone is charged with felony grand larceny related to embezzlement in office, that person would lose the pension for a felony conviction. However, if he or she pleads guilty to a misdemeanor for petit larceny, that person could keep his or her pension even though he or she stole while in public office.”

”Currently you can only lose your pension if you were impeached for a felony. Under this bill, you would lose your pension if you were impeached for any crime. Secondly, it specifically adds in convictions, whether felonies or misdemeanors, for certain corruption and crimes specific to public office.” — Chairman John Shott

House Bill 4607 seeks to address those inequities, he said. “In particular, the bill removes the exclusion of misdemeanor plea bargains in an impeachment for misdemeanor,” Shott said. “In other words, currently you can only lose your pension if you were impeached for a felony. Under this bill, you would lose your pension if you were impeached for any crime. Secondly, it specifically adds in convictions, whether felonies or misdemeanors, for certain corruption and crimes specific to public office. For example, bribes embezzlement, larceny, gifts in public office, unlawful reward for past behaviors and so forth.”

However, he said, it’s important to note that the requirement would remain for the conviction to be for conduct related to the office and must have occurred while the person held the office. “House Bill 4607 seeks to close potential loopholes and ensure that individuals convicted of corrupt conduct in office are not rewarded with a taxpayer-funded pension for the rest of their life,” Shott said.

The House approved the bill with 84 delegates in favor of it, none against and 16 absent. The Senate has assigned the bill to the Pensions Committee and then the Judiciary Committee.

 

Delegates debate role of WVSBA.

The West Virginia School Board Association was at the center of debate over another bill, both in the House Education Committee and before the full House. House Bill 4706 would require regional county board meetings on empowering and equipping boards to attain goals for public education. The meetings would take place between August 1 and December 1, 2016, and replace the currently required biennial meetings on shared services. A report based on the meetings would be used by the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability to make recommendations to the full legislature for consideration during the 2017 and 2018 regular sessions.

The big disagreement that delegates had over the bill was whether to keep the WVSBA as responsible for arranging the meetings or to give that duty to the state superintendent of schools. Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, tried to amend the bill to put the state superintendent in charge of the meetings. He said he wanted the superintendent to have more personal contact with the state’s 55 school districts.

Among those supporting that amendment was David Evans, R-Marshall. “In speaking with my superintendent, he felt that it would be much better for them to be able to deal with the state superintendent of schools rather than to deal with the state board of education,” he said. “It’s just a better deal as far as he’s concerned.”

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked, “Is it unusual for an association to be named in a bill?”

Ambler, responded, “From my recollection, that would be affirmative.”

”I think it's very important that we keep education close to the state superintendent of schools.” — Delegate David Perry

Perry added, “And that association only has an executive director and a secretary. Correct?”

“To my understanding, the gentleman is correct,” Ambler said.

Perry said he would support the change. “I think it’s very important that we keep education close to the state superintendent of schools,” he said.

But House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, objected. “This proposed amendment changes the entire spirit and intent of the bill,” he said. “We should all be aware by now that an education efficiency audit conducted several years ago found our system to be one of the most top-down, highly regulated systems in the nation. We’ve taken some steps to change that with repeals of outdated mandates, moving instructional resources to the local level, Innovation Zones, and some funding changes we’ve adopted.”

The bill would have county board members and their superintendents meet by region to discuss and identify for legislators any law changes they believe are needed to better empower and equip them to meet the state’s education goals, Espinosa said. He added that the WVSBA already is mentioned in the current law, which the legislature passed in 2013. That legislation called on the WVSBA to set up other regional meetings for county board members and superintendents to discuss how districts might share services. All county boards belong to the WVSBA, Espinosa said, so it is a good choice to handle the meetings proposed by House Bill 4706.

”No offense to the state superintendent, but if I want to hear from our local boards and their association, I’d rather hear directly from them rather than through the head of a state agency that is regulating them.” — Delegate Paul Espinosa

“No offense to the state superintendent, but if I want to hear from our local boards and their association, I’d rather hear directly from them rather than through the head of a state agency that is regulating them,” he said.

Two delegates on opposite sides of the issue used similar analogies involving the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers to defend their arguments. In support of the amendment, Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said, “Putting an association in charge of calling meetings is likened to letting the WVEA call meetings or the AFT call the meetings. I think it’s more appropriate that the state superintendent do that.”

But in opposition to the amendment, Delegate Frank Blackwell, D-Wyoming, said, “It would be like telling WVEA the state superintendent has to conduct their meetings, or the AFT – the state superintendent has to conduct their meetings.” Blackwell, who is a longtime superintendent of the Wyoming County schools, added, “If we want to hear from the frontline people out in our counties of what’s going on and what needs to happen, laws that may need to be addressed, then we need to work with our school board members. I sincerely believe that we need to support local control, and let’s hear from our school board members and not try to circumvent this situation.”

Ambler, responded, “It just depends on which fox you want in charge of the chicken house.”

Delegate Walter Duke, D-Berkeley, said he had received email from various counties opposed to the amendment. “The other thing that they’re saying is that what this amendment does is remove local control,” he said.  “If we do not change the law, what we will do is require the members of the 55 county boards to meet again this summer to discuss things that they’ve already discussed.”

After looking at state code, Espinosa said he found instances going back to 1990 in which the WVSBA is cited as being responsible not only for arranging regional meetings of county boards but also for training county board members. He noted that Perry and another delegate advocating inserting the state superintendent in place of the WVSBA had sponsored a bill in 2013 that gave the WVSBA statutory duties.

“I believe this is a reasonable approach to ask our local school boards: What can we do to further empower them?” Espinosa concluded just before the House approved House Bill 4706 passed on Monday with 65 delegates in favor of it, 33 against it and two absent.

 

Bill would change School Aid Formula.

Another bill the House passed on to the Senate is House Bill 4466. As Espinosa explained it, the bill, as amended by the Education Committee, would “shift the determination of current expense funding levels to a more rational base” by changing the School Aid Formula in four major ways. These are the changes he cited:

  • For Step 1 and 2, the funding strategy for the allowance for professional educators and for service personnel would be changed to fund state aid-eligible positions per 1,000 students at the full statutory ratios rather than the number employed up to that ratio. “This change removes the potential for counties to be penalized if, in an effort to be as efficient as possible, they miss a ratio, such as 72.45 professionals per 1,000 students and lose funding for the next school year,” Espinosa said. “This actually happened to five counties this year, including Braxton, Clay, Gilmer, Monongalia and Wirt. The bill restores funding for those positions in those counties at a cost of a little over $460,000. This change also allows counties to consider areas in which they can share employees without giving up the position funding needed to pay for them.”
  • For Step 4, the allowance for transportation costs, a provision would be added to allow up to 20 percent, not exceeding $200,000, of the funds restricted for bus purchases to be used for facility and equipment repair, maintenance and improvement or replacement of other current expense priorities. The county superintendent must request approval from the state superintendent for such a diversion of funds. Prior to approval, the state superintendent must verify the serviceability of the county’s bus fleet based on the county’s school bus inspection defect rate over the two prior years.
  • For Step 6a, which is for other current expenses, the current allowance would be replaced by a cost per square foot for operations and maintenance, using state averages. The allowance would be 70.25 percent of that amount. The current allowance is based on 10 percent of salaries, and state average salaries have been declining for several years, but expenses for utilities, operations and maintenance have not. This change would bring the funding method more in line with the expenses. It would increase the funding for that line-item in the budget by about $486,000.
  • For Step 7, the allowance to improve instruction and instructional technology, the proportion of the growth in local share going to technology would be increased to 25 percent. The base allocation for each county would be increased to $50,000, and districts would be authorized, if approved by the state superintendent, to employ up to one technology systems specialist or one per 1,000 students, whichever is greater.

Espinosa said the bill would carry forward two of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s cuts from the current fiscal year at $3.7 million from the line for improving instructional programs and $147,630 from Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs). But it would restore more than $8.5 million to the School Aid Formula, he said.

Delegates approved House Bill 4466 with all 100 House members in favor of it.

 

Bill would change school personnel deadlines.

Yet another piece of legislation intended to make the work of school boards easier is House Bill 4566.  Its primary purpose is to adjust the final deadlines for personnel actions to May 1 and realign uniformly the deadlines for intermediate actions. Among the adjustments would be moving the deadline for early notice of retirement for all personnel to March 1 and limiting voluntary transfers of all personnel after the 20th day prior to the beginning of the instructional term. The bill would streamline notice and reporting requirements, facilitate postings for longer than the five-day minimum and enable internal transfers for positions known to be vacant for the ensuing year while protecting recall rights prior to posting for new employees. 

In addition, assistant and associate superintendents would be included under provisions for permanent administrative certification for superintendents. Also, the Education Department would be required to report disqualifications to teach on the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification database and to periodically review and update service personnel competency tests.

”The rationale behind this change is to allow more information on expected county board budgets and enrollments for the next year before disrupting the system with potential layoffs and terminations.” — Delegate Paul Espinosa

“The rationale behind this change is to allow more information on expected county board budgets and enrollments for the next year before disrupting the system with potential layoffs and terminations,” Espinosa said.

The House approved House Bill 4566 on a vote of 99 to nothing with one member absent.

 

Better leadership is bill’s aim.

Also receiving strong support was House Bill 4301. “This bill would initiate a comprehensive transformation in school leadership through a process that includes broad stakeholder input under the state board of education to assist it in developing recommendations to the legislature and to the governor,” Espinosa told his colleagues. “It includes substantial findings, some from prior studies in West Virginia, some from researchers across the spectrum of colleges, universities and national organizations, and some that reflect developing programs in other states. The findings talk about the leadership roles of principals and teachers and of the developing models of distributive leadership and shared responsibility for results. The findings also talk about the need to recognize and develop leadership qualities, of the value of teacher leaders who work with others to improve instruction without leaving the classroom completely and of creating a pipeline of aspiring principals mentored by experienced leaders.”

”Clearly, we have some very good leaders in our schools in our system, and this bill would help expand our leadership capacity.” — Delegate Paul Espinosa

It often is noted how differently the same school can perform with two different leaders, he said. “Clearly, we have some very good leaders in our schools in our system, and this bill would help expand our leadership capacity,” Espinosa said. Leadership involves establishing a clear vision, sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly, providing the information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision; and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all stakeholders. Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught at a college class but it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring.”

Developing stronger school leadership complements the effort to drive more educational decision-making down to the level closest to the students, he said.

House Bill 4301 passed on a vote of 96 in favor, three against and one delegate absent.

Most delegates also approved House Bill 4730, which would require a plan to be submitted by the state school board to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability prior to the 2017 legislative session on the implementation of computer science instruction and learning standards in the public schools.  The recommendations in the plan are to include all grade levels, becoming more specific for interested students at the secondary level, and include recommendations for teaching standards and endorsements, if necessary. 

The recommendations for implementation are to be over a period of four years and include any associated additional costs. Nothing would require adoption or implementation of any specific recommendation or any level of appropriation by the legislature.

That bill received the approval of 82 delegates with just four voting against it and 14 absent.

Another approved bill would affect funding for school construction projects through the School Building Authority. House Bill 4461 would change an eligibility requirement for School Major Improvement Fund projects that could penalize county boards that reduce maintenance costs through improved preventive and predictive maintenance practices. The current eligibility threshold is a dollar amount annual expenditure at least equal to the lowest annual maintenance expenditure in three of the last five years. It would be replaced with submission of annual facility maintenance expenditure data for joint review by the authority and the Education Department’s Office of School Facilities and Transportation to assist in determination of the most meritorious projects for funding.

The House approved the bill on a vote of 82 in favor, four against and 14 absent.

Getting a similar level of approval was House Bill 2960. “This bill allows for county boards of education in conjunction with local emergency response personnel to establish emergency preparedness drills to be used in school,” Espinosa said. “The bill requires a three-day notice be given to parents or guardians and students. It further stipulates that a parent may refuse to allow his or her child to participate in the emergency preparedness drills. Fire drills are exempt from the three-day notice requirement.”

The vote to approve that bill was 85 in favor and five against with 10 absent.

Yet another House-passed bill would require county school boards to implement drug awareness and prevention programs for all students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

”This bill adds more specificity and broader coverage to the currently required programs on drug prevention and violence reduction taught in the health curriculum.” — Delegate Matthew Rohrbach

“This bill adds more specificity and broader coverage to the currently required programs on drug prevention and violence reduction taught in the health curriculum,” the lead sponsor, Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said about House Bill 4731. “The programs are to provide instruction regarding the dangers of substance abuse and must be coordinated with, including but not limited to, educators, drug rehabilitation specialists and law enforcement agencies to periodically provide agency personnel the opportunity to provide age-appropriate student education on the impacts of illegal alcohol and drug use.”

Speaking in favor of the bill, Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said, “This is an effort to get upstream. We’re getting flooded, and we’re neck deep. This is a genuinely sincere effort to get upstream of this problem and get into our schools and do more for our students and allow them to have some kind of opportunity to make better choices than they are now. I applaud the efforts of the committee and of the sponsor of the bill – the lead sponsor of the bill. I think it’s well past time that we did this.”

Other delegates agreed. They approved the bill on a vote of 86 to nothing with 14 members absent.

One final education bill approved by delegates is House Bill 4351. It would transfer the Cedar Lakes Camp and Conference Center from the West Virginia Board of Education to the Department of Agriculture. The House approved it on a vote of 94 to zero with six members absent.

 

Other bills were close to passage.

A few bills already approved by the Senate were in position to pass in the House as early as today.  Two of them deal with safety of students going to and from school.

Senate Bill 13 would increase the penalties for overtaking and passing a school bus stopped for the purpose of receiving and discharging children. It would provide penalties in the event that the driver of the passing vehicle cannot be ascertained. 

Senate Bill 476 would authorize county boards of education to expand school zones to roads adjacent to school property.

The final education bill that could get through the House as early as today is Senate Bill 483, which would grant waivers for the purpose of increasing the compulsory school attendance age to 18 in Marshall County and Wyoming County.

A bill approved by the House Education Committee and awaiting further action is Senate Bill 459. It would require the state school board to promulgate a rule that would require county school boards to pay tuition to the Mountaineer Challenge Academy for each student from the boards’ districts who graduate from the academy with a high school diploma. That bill has gone to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

One other bill approved by the House Education Committee would not directly affect school districts except to improve library facilities in their communities. Senate Bill 299 would create a Library Facilities Improvement Fund. That bill also has gone to the House Finance Committee

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate pushed through fewer bills affecting the public education system in the past week than the House of Delegates did. One bill the Senate sent on to the House would require students to pass a civics test to get a high school diploma. Another bill the Senate approved is aimed at changing the Public Employees Insurance Agency, which provides health care insurance for teachers and other education employees.

Senate Bill 669 would require students to demonstrate proficiency in civics as a condition of receiving a high school diploma or Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), which has replaced the General Education Development (GED) diploma in West Virginia. Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, students would need to answer correctly at least 60 questions on a 100-question civics test. Students could take the test any time after beginning ninth grade and could repeat the test as often as necessary. Students would be charged no fee.

When the bill came before the Senate Education Committee late last week, an official of the Department of Education knew little about it. The expert on the bill was lobbyist Phil Reale, representing the Joe Foss Institute. He said the institute promotes use of the naturalization test as a means of teaching civics education. He said the material is online and can be drawn down free of charge.

“What we’ve come to learn since we’ve become involved in this is a number of our civics educators in our current classrooms are actually using this test for multiple means,” Reale said. “Some are using it to gauge student progress. Some are using it for the purpose of evaluating prior to the commencement of the teaching process just what areas of concentration they need to focus on in order to prepare the students.”

Senate Education Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, asked “Do you believe it’s necessary to legislate the requirement that this test be taken?

”If we wonder why people sometimes don’t appreciate what you’re doing here, how the process works, and how important it is to the protection of our democracy and the republic in which we live that people in that democracy understand the workings and trappings of government, the foundations upon which we were built as a nation, then we probably need to re-examine ourselves.” — Phil Reale

Reale said it is. He explained that Joe Foss was a former governor of South Dakota, first president of the American Football League and recipient of a Medal of Honor in World War II. He said the institute is concerned that only 24 percent of American students are proficient in civics.

“If we wonder why people sometimes don’t appreciate what you’re doing here, how the process works, and how important it is to the protection of our democracy and the republic in which we live that people in that democracy understand the workings and trappings of government, the foundations upon which we were built as a nation, then we probably need to re-examine ourselves,” Reale said. The test used for naturalization, in which non-citizens become American citizens, is an effective teaching tool, he added.

According to the Joe Foss Institute’s website, the organization has set a goal of getting all 50 states to adopt legislation like this by the time the nation celebrates the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 2017. It says nine states have passed such legislation since the initiative began in 2014.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, liked the idea of improving civics education but was concerned that requiring the test also would require the creation of an additional high school course. But Cindy Daniel, a deputy superintendent with the Department of Education, said civics education is a required course for graduation in 12th grade. She had been concerned about the cost of administering the test until Reale said is it available online for free. When she learned it was free, she dropped concerns the Education Department had about Senate Bill 669.

“Many of those standards that would be assessed on this test are also standards that are built into our civics course now,” Daniel said. The only concern the department would have about requiring the test would be about the logistics of scoring the test and reporting the scores for thousands of students, she said. Students’ results must be tracked if they are allowed to take the test multiple times until they pass it, she said.

”I think this is a wonderful idea. Certainly, if we’re asking people coming into our country who want to be citizens to have this knowledge, we certainly should have it ourselves.” — Sen. Tom Takubo

But that concern did not bother senators. Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, said, “I think this is a wonderful idea. Certainly, if we’re asking people coming into our country who want to be citizens to have this knowledge, we certainly should have it ourselves.”

The Senate voted 34 to nothing to approve the bill.

 

Many senators oppose PEIA board changes.

By contrast, almost half of the members of the Senate had serious reservations about Senate Bill 622, which would change the experience requirements for members and reduce the number of members of the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board. The bill seemed to have snuck up on Democrats in the Senate until it was up for passage.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senate Government Organization Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, explained to his colleagues that the bill would reduce the number of board members appointed by the governor from 10 to eight beginning July first. Any board member in office at that time could continue to serve until a successor has been appointed and qualified, he said.

The bill also would specify that one member shall represent the interests of education employees, one member shall represent other public employees, one member shall represent retirees, one member shall represent participating political subdivisions, and four members would come from the public at large. No member may be a registered lobbyist. Five members, rather than the current requirement of six, would constitute a quorum.

Several Democrats, led by Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, challenged those requirements, such as changing the number of members.

”When we came into this legislative cycle, we had a $124 million shortfall, and there was issues with this board. And this is an attempt to go through and to reconstitute it in a way so that we can expect a better performance than what there has been in the past.” — Sen. Ron Miller

Blair responded, “I’m not entirely sure why we dropped from 10 to eight, except for we realize that there’s a problem with this board. When we came into this legislative cycle, we had a $124 million shortfall, and there was issues with this board. And this is an attempt to go through and to reconstitute it in a way so that we can expect a better performance than what there has been in the past.”

“What’s the problem with the present board?” Miller asked.

The $124 million shortfall, Blair said. Also, he contended that the legislative auditor determined in 2011 that 22,000 people shouldn’t have been received PEIA benefits because they were divorced or were members’ children above age 26. He said that cost $23 million. Actually, the audit that found problems with certain people getting benefits from PEIA was initiated by PEIA itself, not the legislative auditor.

Blair said the new requirements in the bill would ensure that PEIA Finance Board members would have better qualifications. For example, in regard to the member who would represent the interests of education employees, he said, “The member must hold a bachelor’s degree, must have obtained teacher certification, must be employed as a teacher for a period of at least three years prior to his or her appointment and must remain a teacher for the duration of his or her appointment to remain eligible to serve on the board.”

Asked who would lose out, Blair said the bill would drop the requirement to have one member representing organized labor, and it would drop one member representing the public at large. Of the remaining four at-large members, he said, one of them is to have expertise in financing, development and management of employee benefit programs. Another would have three years of experience in an insurance benefits business. Another must be a certified public accountant with at least three years of experience with a financial management and employment benefits program. The last would have experience as a health care actuary or certified public accountant with at least three years of financial experience with the health care marketplace.

Miller asked whether the problems with PEIA were because of the board or because of the legislature’s inaction.

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he was chairman of the select committee on PEIA in 1995 that set up the current structure. He said he doesn’t like prohibiting any member from being a registered lobbyist. He said one of his best friends was the late John Ruddick, who was a lobbyist who served well on the PEIA Finance Board until he died. “One of the great attributes that John had is that John understood the political system as well as the insurance system, and he was a CPA,” Plymale said.

Under the proposed provisions of Senate Bill 669, Blair said, Ruddick would have been prohibited from serving on the board. Plymale reiterated that registered lobbyists add much to the process.

Unger said he didn’t understand what was wrong with the current PEIA Finance Board. Blair replied, “If $124 million shortfall over five years with only one premium increase isn’t problem enough for you, I don’t know what other answer to give to you, sir.”

“It sounds to me like we’re killing the messenger because of the message,” Unger said.

“I understand this legislature’s attack on organized labor…but what I don’t understand is the attack on the public representative.”

Blair responded, “What I personally feel about it is however many members is on there now is irrelevant.”

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, said, “I don’t think that this is a fix to everything with PEIA.” But, he added, the board oversees about $1 billion in public money, so members should have greater understanding of health insurance.

Miller urged his colleagues to reject the bill. He said PEIA Director Ted Cheatham had told legislators there is no problem with the board.

“This isn’t how we address PEIA and fix it,” Miller said. “[Blair] talked about tweaking the board. We’re not tweaking the board, we’re destroying the board because we want a new board.”

Removing people with good experience from the board would not be the right way to go, he said. “A lot of us do share the blame of what’s happened in PEIA, but sharing the blame doesn’t mean you fire the messenger,” Miller said. “Sharing the blame means we step up to the plate and take care of the problem.”

PEIA and its Finance Board did see the problem coming that has left the agency with the option of cutting members’ benefits if the legislature does not put more state money into raising the employers’ side of premiums, he said. PEIA had asked the legislature for help as it spent down its reserve fund to avoid premium increases, he said, but board members knew they couldn’t ask for extra money until that reserve was spent down to a certain level.

Miller said West Virginia doesn’t pay public employees much, but they have been promised good benefits. “Well, we could change that promise and start cutting what we give them,” he said. “Their benefits could be different. It could be worse. Or we could stick to our word and say that we’ll step up to the plate and do what’s responsible when this board has come to tell us there’s a problem. And that’s what this board did.”

”If we don’t become leaders, maybe we’re the ones that need to be replaced, not this board.” — Sen. Ron Miller

If a board appointed by the governor speaks the truth and the legislature responds by firing the board members, then legislators have problems with themselves, Miller said. “Because if we don’t step up to the plate and do what’s responsible – if we don’t become leaders, maybe we’re the ones that need to be replaced, not this board,” he said.

The Senate voted 18 to 16 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 669 and sent it to the House of Delegates.

 

By Jim Wallace

Several education bills that were still under consideration a few days ago failed to survive Crossover Day on Wednesday, so they have died for the current legislative session. Among the bills that did not survive were two that would have affected state funding to county school districts and bills to require certain types of instruction.

As reported last week, the bill that could have had the biggest effect on county school boards’ budgets was Senate Bill 452, which was proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to take $14.8 million out of the School Aid Formula to help balance the state budget. Senators had such distaste for it that that Senate Education Committee reported the bill to the full Senate without a recommendation for passage, and the Senate then killed it by refusing to accept the committee’s report.

Another bill that dealt with funding for school districts was House Bill 4465, which failed to make it through the House of Delegates. The purpose of the bill was to eliminate the mathematical definition of salary equity and require the state school board, when it would determine equity is not being met, to recommend to the governor and legislature any legislation or method necessary to achieve it and include sufficient funding in its budget request. The House gave this bill two of the three required readings before the full body but then took it off of active consideration on February 24 and never put it back on.

Another dead bill is House Bill 4723, which would have created a program of instruction for students in workforce preparedness to be added to the curriculum of courses in secondary schools. Dave Mohr, counsel to the House Education Committee, said that program would have included resume preparation, interviewing skills, customer service expectations, conflict management and team building, interpersonal relationship training, telephone communications, correspondence, written communications, workforce expectations, leadership and creative development training.

”If we add this into code, that’s just another thing we’ve set down to have the teacher do.” — Delegate David Evans

In the House Education Committee, a few delegates objected to adding more required courses for schools to teach. “We have teachers that are teaching a lot of this stuff right now, and it’s not in the curriculum,” Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, said. “If we add this into code, that’s just another thing we’ve set down to have the teacher do.”

Likewise, Delegate Frank Blackwell, D-Wyoming, said the Wyoming County school system, which he has served as superintendent for many years, teaches “probably everything on this list at some time or another.”

But Delegate Jill Upson, R-Jefferson, said she supported the bill because too many people enter the workforce unprepared. However, she was one of only four delegates who supported House Bill 4723 when the committee voted on it. Another 16 members voted against it, so the bill did not advance to the full House.

Another bill that received considerable discussion by the House Education Committee was House Bill 4687, which would add specificity to the voter registration outreach program in which clerks of county commissions are required to provide for eligible high school students in cooperation with county school boards. Again, some delegates were concerned about adding new requirements to state code. The committee’s vote on the bill ended in a nine-to-nine tie, so the bill failed to advance to the full House.

Legislation to create a digital learning pilot project also failed to advance. In this case, it was in the form of both House Bill 4627 and Senate Bill 671. Neither bill got out of committee. In the Senate Education Committee, members expressed several concerns, including a potential problem of widening the digital gap among schools. The committee’s vote on the bill was a six-six tie, so it failed to advance beyond the committee.

 

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Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for theCharleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.