Legislative News




The Thrasher Group

October 24, 2017 - Volume 37 Issue 11

The West Virginia School Board Association has sent to county school boards, superintendents and other public education officials suggested guidelines for implementing provisions of House Bill 2711 on shared regional services. The five documents, which went out on October 17, include:

  • West Virginia School Board Association (WVSBA) Needs Assessment Regarding Shared Services, which includes a few companion documents:
    • “Matrix of RESA Programs and Services as of June 2016” from the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Finance;
    • “U.S. Regional Service Cooperative/Agency Functions & Services from the Office of School Finance;
    • “Cooperative Agreement FAQ” from the Office of School Finance; and
    • o “Quadrants by RESA Pairs” from the West Virginia Association of School Administrators (WVASA).
  • Agreement to Form the [Name} Educational Services Cooperative from the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Finance
  • Bylaws of the [Name} Educational Services Cooperative
  • Formation of Educational Services Cooperatives: Step-by-Step Procedure and Checklist
  • Characteristics of Educational Services Cooperatives and Other Cooperative Agreement among School Boards in the State of West Virginia

The link to the guidelines documents is:  http://www.wvsba.org/resources/templates-related-document-establish-escs-cooperative-services-arrangements

An electronic link to House Bill 2711 can be found at: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_text.cfm?billdoc=HB2711%20SUB%20ENR.htm&yr=2017&sesstype=RS&i=2711.

While sending the guideline documents to county school boards, WVSBA also cited another document prepared by Jason Butcher, liaison for the state school board to various external entities. For a copy of that document, “Bylaws of the ABC Cooperative,” contact Butcher at: jbutcher@k12.wv.us or 304-558-3660.

The WVSBA presented the documents to the West Virginia Board of Education’s RESA Ad Hoc Committee, chaired by the board’s vice president, Dave Perry, on October 11. The committee did not endorse the documents but acknowledged their availability on the WVSBA’s website.  

“I want to thank everyone who made this effort possible,” WVSBA Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., said.  The preface for the guidelines mentions various individuals he said were “instrumental in getting us to the finish line for the Ad Hoc Committee by its October 11 deadline.” 

 O’Cull also acknowledged Torie Jackson, Ed.D., who represented county school board members on the RESA Ad Hoc Committee. She is a member of the Ritchie County Board of Education.

The documents list names of individuals who serve as contacts for questions regarding shared regional services. They include several staff members of the West Virginia Department of Education. School board members also may contact O’Cull by email at: hocull@wvsba.org. Or they may call him at the WVSBA office at 304-346-0571 or by cellphone at 304-549-9463.


The state Board of Education will be meeting Thursday to consider two matters relating to the Nicholas County Board of Education’s efforts to reconfigure county schools in the Richwood area due to the impact of the June 2016 flooding.

The WVBE agenda, forwarded yesterday, includes two items related to Nichols County:

  • Impact of Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia 17-0767, West Virginia Board of Education, et al. vs. Board of Education of the County of Nicholas - (Information/Discussion/Action)
  • Nicholas County CEFP Update Including Dispute Resolution Process and Next Steps 

In regard to the first agenda item, the Board’s agenda notes, “This matter may involve an Executive Session as provided in W. Va. Code §6-9A-4 [matters involving attorney‑client privilege per Peters v. County Commission, 205 W. Va. 481 (1999)].  The Board majority must vote to have an Executive Session.  (No action will be taken in Executive Session.)

Talks” ahead of mediation

The WVBE agenda items occur on the heels of  what has been described as “talks” between representatives of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Nicholas County Board of Education.

The talks have occurred ahead of planned intervention by the federal government over school consolidation efforts, according to various accounts by West Virginia news media.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail  has reported that Federal Emergency Management Agency mediators are scheduled to come to West Virginia in about two weeks to lead discussions between the state school board and Nicholas County school officials. Education Department and Nicholas County officials, including Supt. Donna Burge-Tetrick, met privately October 20, according to the newspaper.

“As immediate next steps, Superintendent Tetrick and her staff will explore alternate facilities plans with the support and cooperation of the West Virginia Department of Education and members of my staff,” state Supt. Steve Paine is quoted as saying.

The Nicholas County board had planned to combine three schools that were closed after the flooding in June 2016 with Nicholas County High School and the county’s vocational education center at a single campus at the Glade Creek Business Park near Summersville. The closed schools include Richwood Middle School, Richwood High School and Summersville Middle School.

The local school board had planned to use FEMA recovery funds to build the consolidated campus rather than rebuilding three closed schools. However, the state school board rejected the consolidation plan and then the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled on an October 10 that the state board has the right to make such a decision. To read that decision, go to: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4106112-Nicholas-Supreme-Court-Ruling-10-10-17.html.

Chief Justice Concurring Opinion Instructive

As part of his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Alan Loughery said: “As the parties move forward, I trust that they will work cooperatively, diligently, and with alacrity to ensure that the students of Nicholas County receive the educational facilities, programs, and opportunities they deserve and to which they are constitutionally entitled. As a reminder to all citizens of the State – inasmuch as each has a role to play in our educational system – the “thorough and efficient” education to which our children are entitled “develops, as best the state of education expertise allows the minds, bodies and social morality of its charges to prepare them for useful and happy occupations, recreation and citizenship, and does so economically…. I am confident that the parties’ ardently expressed concern for the children’s well-being will lead Nicholas County students to precisely that end….”  To read more of Loughery opinion, go to: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4106115-Chief-Justice-Concurring-Opinion-in-Nicholas.html.

Various state news outlets say state and Nicholas County school officials aren’t planning to start FEMA’s dispute-resolution process until November 7.

A Dece,ber 26 deadline to apply for FEMA funds is approaching. The Justice Administration has requested an extension of that deadline, which already was  pushed back from June, but Paine said another extension has not been guaranteed.


By Jim Wallace

School board members and others associated with the 55 county school districts around West Virginia have complained for many years that the state’s public education was controlled too much by the state school board and Department of Education and not enough by people in the school districts. Well, House Bill 2711, which the legislature approved earlier this year changes that, and Howard Seufer, counsel for the West Virginia School Board Association, is encouraging school districts to take advantage of it.

“Don’t let this chance go by,” - Howard Seufer

“Don’t let this chance go by,” Seufer, who is a partner at the Charleston law firm, Bowles Rice, LLP, told those who attended the West Virginia School Board Association’s fall conference. “You may decide you don’t want to do it, but make that decision after you’ve considered it and arrived at a logical decision.”

Many people recognize House Bill 2711 as the legislation that is bringing an end to the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), but it does much more than that. Seufer said the new law gives county school boards more flexibility in forming cooperative agreements with each other, provides for a special kind of agreement to create Educational Services Cooperatives, eliminates biennial regional meetings of school board members and superintendents, and establishes the County Superintendents’ Advisory Council. In general, he said, the new law gives school boards the opportunity for more local control.

In regard to the RESAs, each one is to be dissolved by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, 2018. All of a RESA’s property will go to an Educational Services Cooperative (ESC), if one exits, Seufer said, but if there is no ESC, county boards in the RESA will have to determine how to divide up the property. If that doesn’t happen, the RESA property will go to the state school board, he said.

State law long has permitted county boards to enter cooperative agreements to share services but that law was very limited in scope to enhancing instruction in particular ways. No boards apparently ever exercised that option. In House Bill 2711, the legislature expanded that law to permit agreements for cooperation covering all county-level functions, including purchasing, operating specialized programs for exceptional children, employing school personnel, professional development, technology and billing for Medicaid services. For example, Seufer said, two small counties could share a personnel director or a transportation director. “Purchasing is almost a no-brainer,” he added.

“I think the sky is the limit as long as we’re talking about county-level functions and cooperating in a way that helps reduce costs,” - Howard Seufer

“I think the sky is the limit as long as we’re talking about county-level functions and cooperating in a way that helps reduce costs,” Seufer said. “And to top it all off, the state board of education has no role in this anymore. They took that out of the law.”

 An impediment to exercising the old law was that schools boards had to ask the state school board for permission, he said, but the new law does not require them to get such permission. “It’s a wonderful new tool,” Seufer said.

Educations Services Cooperative would not be the same as RESAs.               

 An Educational Services Cooperative is one type of a cooperative agreement that school boards could create. As Seufer explained it, an ESC would be a type of cooperative agreement, but not all cooperate agreements would be ESCs. He said ESCs would be more long-lasting arrangements, while other cooperate agreements would be less formal and likely to be less enduring. School districts might want ESCs to offer some of the services RESAs have offered in the past, he said.

“It almost sounds like a RESA, but it’s not,” Seufer said. “Nobody has to belong to this. We don’t have to have one ESC in the state, but this empowers us to do that.”

Under the new law, an ESC would be required to have a governing board, which would include the superintendent and a board member from each participating county. The board also would be allowed to have a teacher, an instructional leader, a principal, a representative of each institution of higher education in the participating counties, and a business representative.

“An ESC is kind of a plain vanilla organization. It can do all kinds of things,” Seufer said. Also, unlike under the RESA system, a county could belong to more than one ESC, he said.

Among the requirements for ESCs that don’t apply to other cooperative agreements is a provision that every ESC would have to have an executive director, who would be responsible for carrying out the decisions of the governing board. Seufer said an ESC could hire people who would be employees of the ESC, not any of the member school boards, and an ESC would be allowed to provide personnel services for member counties.

“The sky’s almost the limit in terms of services, as long as they are cost-effective,” he said. In addition, he said, an ESC would be considered a local education agency, so it could apply for grants.

An ESC must adopt a plan each year, Seufer said, but the plan would not require state board approval.

Further, an ESC could enter into contracts with counties that are not part of it. For example, Seufer said, if one ESC is really good at handling Medicaid billing, it could offer its services to any county in the state. Thus, it could be an entrepreneurial opportunity, he said.

Biennial regional meetings are gone, but superintendents must meet.    

Another change as a result of House Bill 2711 is the elimination of the biennial regional meetings that required county boards and superintendents to gather every other summer to come up with ideas to recommend to the legislature. Instead, the new law has required the formation of a County Superintendents’ Advisory Council.

As part of that section, the law has required the state to be divided into four parts. Seufer said the West Virginia Association of School Administrators has done that, so there are now four quadrants. At least once a year, all the superintendents in a quadrant must meet to generate ideas on how districts might cooperate better to save money and serve students, he said, and those ideas are to be sent to the state board and the legislature.

“It’s just a way to generate ideas,” Seufer said. “They don’t make decisions as a quadrant under this County Superintendents’ Advisory Council. They just get together to come up with ideas.”

The law also requires all the superintendents in a quadrant to spend time once a year talking about what state laws and regulations their boards think might be holding them back. Then they are to report to the legislature, the state board and the governor on how they would like those state laws and regulations changed.

In addition, the spokespersons for the superintendents in the quadrants are to meet twice a year with the state superintendent to pass along ideas for collaboration. Once a year, they are to meet with the state board to share ideas. “This is just an idea-generation device, and probably a very good one if we want to get a list of things that could really help,” Seufer said.

“It’s an exciting time, and I wish you luck with it,” - Howard Seufer

 “It’s an exciting time, and I wish you luck with it,” he concluded.

Howard O’Cull, executive director of WVSBA, shared some of Seufer’s enthusiasm for the new law. “We are entering a new phase of opportunity in West Virginia, not only in terms of public education but also other areas, as well,” he said. “I think this legislation exemplifies the kind of things that can be done in a collaborative way and a cooperative way as we look at declining enrollment and a number of other things.”

RESAs do provide cost savings to school boards, O’Cull said, so school board members should consider what they do and determine whether their boards need those services from an ESC.

“This really isn’t as complex as it’s made out to be, but it’s complex because it’s not been done before in terms of an ESC,” - Howard O'Cull

“This really isn’t as complex as it’s made out to be, but it’s complex because it’s not been done before in terms of an ESC,” he said. “They have some of the flavor of Regional Education Services Agencies but they’re not Regional Education Services Agencies.”

  O’Cull noted that one person expressed to him the concern that, if districts get into sharing services and personnel, some people might not be as invested in the communities they serve as people who live in those communities. He said that is something for board members to consider as they move ahead.

Board members consider how to operate under the new law.                  

Tammy Samples, president of the Upshur County school board, reported on results from a committee meeting on needs assessment. She said participants agreed that the first task for school boards will be to determine what services are needed and then prioritize them. She said other ideas came out of that meeting, including:

  • One concern is whether superintendents and others are too busy to handle the additional work associated with this.
  • Some counties believe they can handle things on their own and don’t want to be part of these cooperative groups.
  • People agree some form of uniform needs assessment is needed, but it’s not clear what that should look like.
  • There was some concern about how to fund services.

Charlotte Hutchins, a member of the Raleigh County school Board, reported on another committee meeting that discussed cooperative agreements and ESCs. She said the consensus was that cooperative agreements would be more short term and have fewer requirements to meet than ESCs. She said some committee members thought many counties would be interested in cooperative agreements. But, she said, some questions arose, such as whether an ESC would be covered by the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management, whether it would have to register with the Secretary of State’s Office and whether it would have to follow state personnel law for education employees.

After those presentations, the board members and superintendents in attendance at the conference broke into discussion groups to consider scenarios put together by O’Cull and determine how the new law might affect the way the issues in those scenarios would be addressed. Some scenarios were related to the concept of needs assessment, while others were related to the concept of having a template for use in forming cooperative agreements. Although the recommendations from all of the discussion groups were collected, oral reports from just three groups on each subject were given. Here are brief descriptions of the spokespersons’ comments:

  • First group on needs assessment: ere It would be good to have a document to start from, but it should be easy to modify for each ESC. Counties must determine a budget for an ESC. The stakeholders for a needs assessment must be identified. All board members and assistant superintendents should be included.
  • Second group on needs assessment: The needs of each county should be determined, and then it should be determined from those needs how counties should work together, rather than just putting together counties that are geographically close. A statewide uniform document would be good because anything created would have to be defended.
  • Third group on needs assessment: Some counties already have moved beyond needs assessment. It would be wise to start with basic services and have provisions to expand on them.
  • First group on template: A template could be very detailed but as simple as a checklist. There should be some flexibility to allow for evolution of ESCs. Established organizations, such as the WVSBA and WVASA, would be able to get a template out to all the districts.
  • Second group on template: It should be as prefabricated as possible, perhaps on a website that provided for checking off each item. It should be as specific as necessary to cover the legal requirements but also able to be modified for each county’s needs. Each county should designate a staff member to oversee the contracts.
  • Third group on template: The template should be very general because one size does not fit all. It should be placed online with dropdown selections and the option to modify it to create additional selections. It could be placed on the state Education Department’s website and on the WVSBA website.

“We have to move forward boldly, not just standing back and letting things happen.” - Tammy Samples

The session concluded with a panel discussion. Samples started the discussion with a quotation: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” She called the opportunities presented by the new law uncharted territory and said, “We have to move forward boldly, not just standing back and letting things happen.”

Hutchins said change is difficult and also can be scary, but school boards must move forward with the new law. “We have to embrace this,” she said. “We have to look at it with open minds, and we have to decide as county boards of education that we are going to do what is best for our county and what is best for the students of our county. We don’t have any choice. We can sit back and complain about the legislation. We can’t sit back and do nothing. It is now up to us, and we have to act.” She then cited this quotation: “Old ways won’t open new doors.”

Gary Price, superintendent of the Marion County schools, said that the entrepreneurial aspect of ESCs means that the expertise of board members with business backgrounds, and not just superintendents, will be needed to guide them. “We desperately need the expertise of the board members on this one,” he said.

Torie Jackson, a member of the Ritchie County school board who was appointed to serve on the Governor’s RESA Task Force, said it is good that no one must figure out how to respond to the new law alone. She said people across the state can figure it out together.

Finally, Jason Butcher, coordinator for the state school board, said he was encouraged by the conversation he heard. The ESCs cannot be purely educational service agencies, he said. “For these ESCs to remain open, there’s going to have to be revenue generated,” he said. Thus, he suggested, a business person could be school boards’ number one guide through the process.

A needs assessment is necessary because nothing will happen until county board members agree on the way to go, Butcher said. “Until the county board members say, ‘Move,’ there is no moving,” he said.

 O’Cull noted the entire WVSBA process had been “porous.”

In addition to county boards of education members, county superintendents, and state Board of Education members, a guidelines document relating to implementing  the House Bill 2711 legislation regarding county board shared regional services had been forwarded to various representatives in the governor’s office, state Department of Education officials, among others.

The guidelines documents may be accessed by visiting WVSBA’s website. http://www.wvsba.org/resources/templates-related-document-establish-escs-cooperative-services-arrangements


By Jim Wallace

West Virginia legislators are giving some thought to changing employment policies for teachers, especially for situations in which layoffs are necessary. They also are considering how schools address students’ mental health needs.

In regard to employment policies, the Joint Standing Committee on Education heard from Stephanie Aragon, a policy analyst for K-12 Institute of the Education Commission of the States. She said the commission’s policy team conducted a 50-state review of teacher employment policies, including policies on reductions in force, and has continued to track those policies.

Historically, states either had no reduction-in-force policies or they required tenure or seniority to be the deciding factor. Aragon said many states are moving away from that and explicitly prohibit the use of tenure or seniority as the primary factor, or they require performance to be the primary factor.

So far, at least 37 states have reduction-in-force policies in place, she said, while another 13 states and the District of Columbia do not address reduction in force in statute and leave the criteria up to the districts. Seventeen states require tenure or seniority to be the primary factor. Seven states require tenure, nine states require seniority, and Kentucky considers both tenure and seniority. Two states simply say it must be based on objective criteria. Thirteen states require performance to be the primary factor. In the other five states, performance might be included either as a required secondary and optional factor.

Aragon reported these recent changes in states’ employment policies:

  • In 2015, Nevada passed a law requiring performance to be the primary factor.
  • In 2016, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a similar law, but the governor vetoed it.
  • In Alaska, reduction in force is based primarily on tenure.
  • In Oregon, it is based primarily on seniority, but performance can be used as a secondary factor.
  • Arizona has a simple reduction-in-force law that prohibits tenure or seniority from being used but does not dictate what districts must use instead.
  • In Louisiana, policies must be based solely on “demand, performance and effectiveness” as determined by performance evaluations.
  • Colorado uses performance as a primary factor. Districts also must consider tenure and seniority but only after considering performance.

“As always, there’s no silver bullet to any of these policies,” Aragon said. “There are benefits and challenges to each.” - Stephanie Aragon

“As always, there’s no silver bullet to any of these policies,” Aragon said. “There are benefits and challenges to each.”

Proponents of policies based on seniority or tenure argue that they provide a way to objectively and efficiently select teacher for layoffs, she said. “They keep more experienced teachers in schools while avoiding controversial performance evaluation methods, and they prevent layoff decisions based solely on social, political or economic pressures,” Aragon said. “Seniority-based reduction-in-force polices prevent arbitrary layoffs, which is important especially in districts experiencing financial difficulties. Because senior teachers often are more expensive, district may be tempted to lay off these teachers first.”

However, she said, opponents claim that such policies keep ineffective senior teachers and remove effective junior teachers. They also argue those policies disproportionately affect poor and minority students because inexperienced teachers often are concentrated in schools with poor and minority students, Aragon said. In addition, they argue that such policies can lead to larger class sizes because it is more expensive to retain senior teachers, she said.

Performance-based policies also have benefits and challenges. Advocates say they are better because they allow districts to keep effective junior teachers and remove ineffective senior teachers, Aragon said, but opponents contend these policies rely too heavily on controversial performance evaluation methods and they often are applied too late. One of the important considerations is that many state evaluation systems fail to meaningfully differentiate teachers, she said. If most teachers are rated as effective, their performance is not a useful way to determine which ones should be laid off.

Aragon said that, if states are considering using performance-based standards, they should ensure that their systems:

  • Are rigorous and trusted;
  • Use multiple measures of teacher performance;
  • Have meaningful differentiation among teachers; and
  • Have measures in place to support teacher quality, such as rigorous training, credentialing, induction and mentoring.

States with systems based on tenure should ensure that they have a sufficient probationary period so they can catch ineffective teachers early and provide them with mentoring and support before they receive tenure, she said. Reduction-in-force policies should be just one part of a system that works to ensure teacher quality, she said.

A tenure-based system should be based on legitimate evaluations supported by multiple measures of effectiveness, Aragon said. The evaluations should identify, improve or remove teachers early on prior to when tenure is granted, she said. Some states are doing this now with evaluations tied to tenure, and ineffective teachers could lose tenure, she said.

In 2014, 16 states were using performance evaluations to determine whether teachers receive tenure, Aragon said. Five states had laws allowing districts to take away teachers’ non-probationary status when they did not meet performance standards, she said.

“These policies can help to ensure that the tenure is meaningful and that tenure-based reduction-in-force policies are not quality blind,” she said. A performance-based system is not good unless it is based on a trusted evaluation system, she added.

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, noted that, in West Virginia, it takes three years for a teacher to earn tenure. He asked how that compares to other states. Aragon said most states, 32, have the same requirement, while a small number of states require just two years, and a few states require up to five years.

The Education Commission of the States does not advocate for any particular policy, but instead encourages systemic thinking, she said. In other words, Aragon said, states should think about teacher quality from the beginning.

“It sounds to me like what you’re saying is if they had this systematic approach from the time the teacher is first hired, and as that teacher moves up through the ranks, if it’s done properly, by the time they get to the top, seniority will be the best measure. That makes really the most sense of any approach I’ve ever heard of.” - Sen. Mike Romano

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said, “It sounds to me like what you’re saying is if they had this systematic approach from the time the teacher is first hired, and as that teacher moves up through the ranks, if it’s done properly, by the time they get to the top, seniority will be the best measure. That makes really the most sense of any approach I’ve ever heard of.”

Aragon responded that there are two national trends. One is more states are including performance as a factor. The second is that 10 states now prohibit the use of tenure or seniority as a primary factor.

  Several programs address students mental health needs.

On the subject of how schools respond to students’ mental health issues, Justin Boggs, assistant director for student and community support and federal programs in the Education Department, told the committee that the department has been implementing several main initiatives. More and more teachers are saying they need help coping with students’ mental health issues, he said, and they want to get services to the students so they can be ready to learn.

Boggs said the West Virginia School Crisis Prevention and Response Plan provides a template for what is required in West Virginia Code in the School Access Safety Act. It also addresses mental health requirements with the comprehensive school counseling program, he said, and a component of the plan addresses the mental health needs of students. The department provides schools with different templates, tools, best practices, timelines and instructions, he said, so they can help students suffering from trauma when they come to school.

Another program that can help some schools is called Expanded School Mental Health. Boggs said it’s a partnership among the Education Department, Marshall University’s School Health Technical Assistance Center and the Department of Health and Human Resources. He said it is designed expand mental health services throughout schools in West Virginia by providing  a comprehensive system or services and programs that build on services provided by schools. The program has a three-tiered framework that addresses prevention, early intervention and treatment, he said.

The Education Department wants to not just address issues with students having problems right now but also to work on prevention, Boggs said. “It is about addressing them at an earlier age and addressing all students so they don’t get to that,” he said.

In addition, DHHR has provided some grants that schools can apply for to cover start-up costs and technical assistance from Marshall University, he said.

Several years ago, the state school board passed Policy 2425 to promote health, safety, wellness and academic success of students, Boggs said. It has a framework with eight components, including one about health and social supports, he said. Some schools have community-school coordinators whose sole jobs are to coordinate and communicate with the communities to bring providers to the schools, he said. Those coordinators link students to wrap-around services to address all their needs, which he said has been “extremely successful.” Several schools in such places as Clay County, McDowell County and Greenbrier County are doing that, he said.

A few other programs Boggs cited included:

  • Project Aware, a five-year federal grant that addressed mental health needs in public schools. It gave counties start-up funds to provide mental health services.
  • Mental Health First Aid, which is a five-step action plan. West Virginia has 66 instructors statewide who have provided eight-hour training session to 3,504 people from the county school districts.
  • Title I funding, which can be used for mental health services or social workers in the schools.

About 50 schools offer mental health services in school-based health centers, Boggs said, but many districts say they don’t have dedicated funding for mental health services. “It has to be a priority, and you have to say, we’re going to do this,” he said. It is daunting for educators to set something up, he said, but there are people out there who can bridge the gap.

Lincoln County applied for a grant through the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation to provide mental health services at an elementary school. Boggs said that started out at one day a week and expanded to three days a week. It went well for a while, until the mental health provider took another job, he said. Since then, he said, the school has found it extremely hard to find a replacement. To bill Medicaid, the provider must a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree, he said, and the person also needs to be able to pay costs upfront and wait for reimbursement, which is a barrier for many of them.

In his conclusion, Boggs said, schools that are successful at addressing students’ mental health needs have shared visions and goals. “Sustainability is the lynchpin in this,” he said.

By Jim Wallace

Gov. Jim Justice has pledged to school board members and superintendents from around the state that education is his top priority.

“I believe that education should be the centerpiece to driving our entire economy,” - Gov. Jim Justice

“I believe that education should be the centerpiece to driving our entire economy,” Justice said as he addressed the West Virginia School Board Association’s fall conference. “I think education needs to drive everything we do – everything. We need to be the place in West Virginia where people want to come to because we have the best and we have the safest and we are the place for people to bring their children.”

 The governor said he promised to reform West Virginia’s public education system and has been able to fulfill much of that pledge as a result of bills he got the legislature to pass earlier this year. He said that legislation is resulting in these changes:

  • Restoring local control to increase flexibility in regulations for county school systems and providing support for classroom teachers;
  • Shattering the bureaucracy in Charleston;
  • Changing the way shared services are provided;
  • Eliminating Regional Education Services Agencies (RESAs);
  • Limiting the state school board’s intervention to just the most extraordinary circumstances;
  • Reducing the high-stakes testing and putting an end to the A-through-F grading of public schools.

“We’re trying to put control back in your hands because I feel like you know best what to do,” Justice told school board members. He added that his main disappointment in regard to education legislation was that he was unable to get a pay raise for teachers.

 After being elected as a Democrat in 2016, Justice made a surprise announcement in early August that he decided to switch his party registration to Republican. Despite that, he said, “I haven’t changed any.” He then decried the political infighting by members of both parties. 

“But the one thing I haven’t done – I haven’t changed my commitment to education in any way, shape, form or fashion,” Justice said.

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia legislators again are considering the possibility of establishing education savings accounts. The subject has come up in past years, but the legislature has yet to pass a bill to authorize them.

 As legislators prepare for their 2018 regular session, which will begin in January, the Joint Standing Committee on Education has heard about the benefits of education savings accounts from Jonathan Butcher, senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation: With an education savings account, the state would put a portion of the School Aid Formula into a private account that the parents then would use to buy educational products and services for the child, he said.

Butcher gave the example of an Arizona child named Nathan, who has autism and did not speak for his first six years. The teacher at the local school was unable to give him much attention, so his parents applied for an education savings account in 2011, soon after Arizona authorized such accounts. They used it to send him to a school that could devote more attention to his needs and provide him with a speech therapist. After eight months, Nathan spoke for the first time.

“This is the kind of life change that is happening for children with special needs across Arizona,” - Jonathan Buther

“This is the kind of life change that is happening for children with special needs across Arizona,” Butcher said.  Six states, including Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Nevada and Mississippi, have enacted education savings accounts, including a few with laws specifically to help children with special needs, he said. The programs in Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee are specifically for children with special needs, he said, but the Arizona program has grown beyond that since 2011.

According to Butcher, here are the experiences of states with education savings:

  • In Arizona, parents get a prepaid Visa card to buy educational products and services. The state puts a limit on the merchant category codes for which parents can use their cards. Arizona has about 3,500 students in the program.
  • Florida has 8,000 students using the accounts.
  • Tennessee’s program just began.
  • Mississippi’s program is capped at 435 children and has used a lottery to determine which ones get it.
  • A survey in Arizona found about 90 percent of parents reported being either very satisfied or satisfied. A focus group found about 94 percent satisfaction. Research in Mississippi found similar levels of satisfaction.
  • In Arizona, about 250,000 students are eligible to use education savings accounts, but 58 percent of applications are for children with special needs. There is much flexibility for parents in buying products and services. About one-third of the Arizona families using education savings accounts use them for multiple products and services simultaneously.

“So this is what separates education savings accounts from vouchers or from private school scholarships,” Butcher said. “Families can do more than one thing at a time with an account…. This is why children with special needs can uniquely benefit from education savings accounts because parents can find things just outside of a traditional classroom.”

Before he finished, Butcher noted that about 16 percent of West Virginia students are considered to have special needs, while the national average is 13 percent.


By Jim Wallace

Legislators are pushing forward in their consideration of changing how state school board members are selected or getting more legislative control over state school board actions.

 A proposal for a constitutional amendment to have six of the board’s nine members elected did not get through the legislature earlier this year, but legislative leaders decided potential changes should be studied before the next regular legislative session in 2018. Thus, the Joint Standing Committee on Education and the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary met together to hear from experts on the possibilities.

Two of those experts participated from the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver through a Skype connection to provide perspectives on how other states govern their public education systems.

“There is not an ideal education structure nationwide, and states must have their own decisions based on political feasibility and educational goals,” - Kelly Latterman

“There is not an ideal education structure nationwide, and states must have their own decisions based on political feasibility and educational goals,” NCSL policy analyst Kelly Latterman said. “Individual states must find a balance for their state agencies’ roles in education.”

Latterman told the committees that states vary widely in their governance models for education, and states belonging to the Southern Regional Education Board, which includes West Virginia, reflect that variety:

  • Model One – In Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi and West Virginia, state school boards have members appointed by the governor, and chief state school officers are appointed by the state boards.
  • Model Two – In Alabama and Louisiana, elected state boards appoint the chief state school officers.
  • Model Three – In Georgia, North Carolina and Oklahoma, the state boards are appointed, while the chief school officers are elected.
  • Model Four – In Delaware, Tennessee and Virginia, the boards are appointed and the chief state school officers are appointed by the governors.
  • South Carolina and Texas have modified versions of those systems.

Nationally, she said, 12 states have boards with members appointed by the governor and chief state school officers appointed by the state boards, seven have elected boards that appoint the chief state school officers, nine states have appointed boards and elected state school officers, 11 states have appointed boards and chief state school officers appointed by the governors, and the remaining nine states plus the District of Columbia have variations of those models.

Supporters of a decentralized system advocate for more local control to allow flexibility on the local level, Latterman said, while proponents of a centralized system focus on the need for quality assurance and see state or federal policy as a way to increase equality in systems in which funding streams, hiring and resources are vastly different.

Model One is most concentrated and centralized, she said. In a recent study, West Virginia was classified as having more state-level authority, being more consolidated and being in the middle of the range for public participation, she said.

Model Two has authority consolidated within a few institutions, Latterman said, and public participation is encouraged through the voting process. Ten of the 11 states with elected boards require regional representation, she said.

Model Three has authority distributed more between institutions, and public participation is encouraged, she said.

Model Four has an increased level of gubernatorial control, she said.

States that have changed their governance structures usually experience multiple factors pushing them to adopt a particular model, Latterman said. Those factors have included litigation, changes in state funding and standards, accountability reforms and alterations to the political landscape, she said.

“Over the last two decades, we have seen an increase in gubernatorial oversight and governance in K-12 policy,” - Kelly Latterman

“Over the last two decades, we have seen an increase in gubernatorial oversight and governance in K-12 policy,” Latterman said. For example, in 2010, Hawaii approved a constitutional change for the school board to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate rather than elected by voters. Other states have created state executive-level secretaries of education in addition to their chief state school officers. Elsewhere, states have abolished their state boards of education. In addition, plenty of proposals for education reforms have failed.

Some states have transferred power and realigned authority, Latterman said. Washington created a Department of Education as a branch agency in addition to having an Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, she said, while California abolished the state superintendent and then abolished the secretary of education.

In regard to how well different governance systems work, Latterman cited a study that used National Assessment of Educational Progress scores from fourth-grade and eighth-grade reading and math from 1998 through 2003. That research considered three key aspects of government centralization: leadership, administration and finance.

For leadership, it considered the authority of the governor to appoint the education chief and members of the state board of education. The study found that states where the governor appoints the state education chief or members of the state board were considerably more likely to have smaller achievement gaps between economically disadvantaged students and others. It found no significant relationship between centralized leadership and states’ overall levels of student achievement. However, Latterman said, that was nullified when the governor had the authority to appoint both the state education chief and the state board.

“The suggestion here is that centralization of education governance had mixed results on student achievement,” - Kelly Latterman

Another finding of that research was that states with more school districts had higher levels of student achievement but also more districts with larger achievement gaps. “The suggestion here is that centralization of education governance had mixed results on student achievement,” Latterman said.

Daniel Thatcher, a program director for NCSL, told the committees that the separation of powers in government gets complicated where legislative power has been delegated to state boards of education either through statute or constitutional provisions.  He said states have delegated their authority in different ways through administrative agencies.

One category has strict standards and safeguards in which power is delegated only through statute. Another category has low standards and safeguards, in which states view delegation as acceptable if the delegating statute includes a general legislative statement of policy or general rule to guide recipients in exercising the delegated power. In the procedural safeguards category, delegation of legislative power is acceptable as long as recipients of the power have adequate procedural safeguards in place. Some states allow the legislative review or veto of administrative rules.

Thatcher said 41 states have some type of authority to review administrative rules, although not all have power to veto those rules. In states with veto authority, 13 can do it through passage of statutes, while 15 states can do it through passage of resolutions, he said. At least 19 states have legislative review, while 30 don’t, and North Carolina is in a gray area that will require litigation to determine where it stands, he said. In some states, state boards are created through constitutional provisions, so they have powers outside of statutory authority, he said.

During the backlash that occurred after most states adopted the Common Core State Standards, Thatcher said, 19 states took legislative action to limit the authority of either their chief state school officers or their state school boards to adopt academic standards.

West Virginia has gone through a series of changes.

The committees received a historical perspective on how West Virginia’s system has evolved from attorney Howard Seufer, who has served as counsel for the West Virginia School Board Association and for many county school boards. He noted that he does not have a position on how state school board members should be selected.

“Our Constitution has for virtually our entire history as a state said that the legislature shall provide by general rule for a thorough and efficient system of schools,” Seufer said. “That’s been a constant throughout our history. It hasn’t really changed. What has changed is our other provisions in the law, in our Constitution, for the state superintendent of schools and that state board of education.”

“Oftentimes, the state board is referred to as the fourth branch because it has sort of an independent status within the executive branch,” - Howard Seufer

The state Constitution did not mention the state school board until 1958, when voters approved an amendment that made the state board a constitutional body, much like the legislature and the courts and the governor. “Oftentimes, the state board is referred to as the fourth branch because it has sort of an independent status within the executive branch,” Seufer said.

In 1863, when West Virginia adopted its Constitution, it provided that the legislature could create the position of state superintendent. One year later, the legislature adopted a statute to create an office of state superintendent of schools and charge the superintendent with the general supervision of schools. That continued until 1958, when the state board was given authority to supervise schools.

“Up until then, we had state boards of education, but they were always creatures of statute,” Seufer said. When the legislature first authorized the superintendent to establish a state board of four people, it was solely to examine teachers and approve curriculum, he said.

Subsequently, Seufer said, these changes occurred:

  • In1908, the state board was extended by statute to include six members, five appointed by the superintendent with the sixth being the superintendent himself.
  • In 1919, the legislature passed a law to have a seven-member board appointed by the governor.
  • In 1947, the legislature amended that statute to expand the board to nine members.
  • In 1949, the state held a vote to amend the Constitution to make the state board a constitutional body, but voters defeated it.
  • In 1958, voters approved a similar amendment. Since then, the state board has had responsibility for the schools with the superintendent serving as the board’s chief executive officer.
  • In 1989, there was a proposal to remove the state board from the Constitution and give the newly created Department of Education and the Arts responsibility for setting education policy. Voters defeated it.

“It seems to me that nothing about what’s being discussed changes the role of county boards of education. I know that’s a concern to everybody because you all represent counties.” - Howard Seufer

“Changing how the members of the state board of education are selected or designated does not change the provision of the Constitution that says the state board of education shall generally supervise the free schools,” Seufer said. “It seems to me that nothing about what’s being discussed changes the role of county boards of education. I know that’s a concern to everybody because you all represent counties.”

As he often does in such discussions, Seufer pointed out that county school boards are not established in the state Constitution. “There is nothing in this West Virginia Constitution that requires us to have 55 county boards of education, one in each county,” he said. “The Constitution allows it, but it doesn’t require it. County boards of education are creatures of statute, and what that means is the only reason we have county boards of education legally speaking is that the legislature passed a law many years ago saying that, as of a certain date in 1933, there will be one county board of education in each county, each county board of education shall have five members elected by the people of that county, and those county boards of education would have various duties that have been detailed in statute since that time. The legislature could as easily in its next session abolish county boards of education. The Constitution doesn’t protect them.”

Changing how state board members are selected would not affect county boards of education, Seufer said, because the relationship between the county boards and the state board would be the same.

There have been very few cases over the years in which courts have ruled on what the legislature can and cannot do in education and what the state board can and cannot do, he said. The closest the court got to that was in a minor case about a requirement for student athletes to maintain 2.0 grade-point averages, he said. In that case, the state Supreme Court upheld the authority of the state board.

Seufer cited one other case, known as the Hechler case, in which the legislature had passed a law saying that all regulations passed by the state board would have to go through legislative rule-making review in the same way that regulations of every other state agency are treated. He said the rules could not go into effect without legislative approval. But the Supreme Court agreed with the state board that it did not have to get such approval because it has authority independent of the legislature, he said.

In the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Nicholas County consolidation case, there was nothing inconsistent with prior rulings because the court found that the state school board acted within its authority, Seufer said.

Legislators might want public education to be governed like higher education.

The final person called to testify before the two committees was Matt Turner, who is vice chancellor for both the Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) and the Council for the Community and Technical College System. House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said Turner was there because legislators have considered changing the system for governance of the state’s primary and secondary education to be like that for the higher education system.

Turner explained that higher education’s rulemaking process is much like that for other state agencies. He said that, prior to 1969, West Virginia University operated with its own governing system while the state school board ran the other state higher education institutions.  The Board of Regents was formed in 1969 to oversee all the higher education schools, he said. The current legislative rulemaking procedure for higher education started in 1988 with the creation of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA), he said. HEPC was created in 2000, he said, and the individual boards of governors for the institutions were created in 2001.

Near the end of the meeting, Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said he was concerned about how much it would cost to have state school board members elected. Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, said she has heard from many constituents who believe the state school board has little accountability.


By Jim Wallace

West Virginia education officials are moving ahead with a system to replace the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs). They also are working on developing a new school accountability system now that the Office of Education Performance Audits has been eliminated, getting rid of the requirement for having construction managers on school construction projects, improving the quality of school leadership, and helping school districts close the third grade reading gap. Those are some of the projects they have discussed with members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

As part of the reforms of House Bill 2711, the legislature decided this year to get rid of the RESAs, which were established in the early 1970s. The RESAs have until the end of next June to phase out their operations. In their place, school districts are encouraged to enter into agreements with other districts to obtain the types of services that RESAs have provided.

Part of the plan is to divide the state into quadrants and have the county superintendents within each quadrant work together on their districts’ needs.

Jason Butcher, coordinator for the state school board, told legislators that the superintendents met in June to divide the state into quadrants and have been meeting monthly since then by tying their meetings into the West Virginia Association of School Administrators’ meetings.

“I’m impressed with what the quadrants have done to this point because they’re either meeting or exceeding the deadlines set forth in [House Bill] 2711,” - Jason Butcher

“I’m impressed with what the quadrants have done to this point because they’re either meeting or exceeding the deadlines set forth in [House Bill] 2711,” he said.

The state school board has created a task force to work closely with the West Virginia School Board Association to ensure that county boards’ desires are captured and incorporated into future plans, Butcher said.  WVSBA Executive Director Howard O’Cull met in August with several dozen different school board members and superintendents, he said. 

Butcher said the superintendents have talked about aligning assessments with standards, professional standards, adult basic education and structures for the cooperatives that are to replace RESAs.

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, asked whether there has there been any discussion on funding. Butcher said some RESAs have enough money to continue the rest of the fiscal year. The cooperatives will have to explore funding, he said, adding that they will have to be funded through grants or by providing cooperative services.

House Bill 2711 also eliminated the Office of Education Performance Audits, so state Supt. Steve Paine told legislators that the Education Department is working to create something for support and accountability in its place. He said a working group will be established after the state school board meets next month, and its emphasis will be on providing support for districts that need it.

“We believe that support can occur within county districts,” - Supt. Steve Paine

“We believe that support can occur within county districts,” Paine said. That could be done by using the concept of statistical neighbors in which schools needing help in some aspect could get help from similar schools doing well, he said.

“We think some of the best ideas come from the field to the field,” Paine said. “We’re trying to create that kind of culture first before we even think about accountability measures. And I don’t believe that we’ll be recommending sending a team out on site per se as we used to do those accreditation visits anymore.”

The Education Department can collect the data it needs through desktop audits and then offer support to schools that need it, he said.  That would be part of a multifaceted approach, he said.

“My experience is when colleagues support colleagues you get a lot of gain from that,” Paine said. The work on the new accountability and support system should start in early December, he said. He invited the legislature to be represented in the process.

  Recommendation is to eliminate most construction managers.

On the subject of construction managers, Paine said he has been serving as the chairman of an ad hoc committee of the School Building Authority that has had three meetings on that issue.

“Our conclusion is we need to change the practice,” he said. The mandatory use of construction managers has cost about $8 million that could have gone to more school construction, Paine said, so he plans to recommend to the full School Building Authority to eliminate the requirement for construction managers.

“We’re thinking that we need to go back to a process where we put the owner, the district, in charge of the project with the architect that they select,” Paine said. “They can then determine the scope of the project based on the project itself.”

For example, he said, a district might decide to have a clerk of the works rather than a construction manager on a project. “But right now [construction managers are] being assigned to very simple projects, and it just simply does not need to be that way,” he said. In general, Paine said, architects should be held responsible for seeing that projects are completed, and they have requested the change. Most construction companies agree to the recommendations, he said, and Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, and Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, who are in the construction business, completely concur with the recommendation.

In regard to school leadership, Paine said the state’s pipeline for developing future leaders is thin. He said few people are lining up to be superintendents and principals. To correct that problem, he said, the Education Department has contracted with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and developed a yearlong training program for people who aspire to be school superintendents and for others who want to refresh their skills. Those working on the project met for the first time last month and plan to meet monthly.

“I would like to request Howard O’Cull of the School Board Association to consider when they have vacancies looking at the credentials that these people obtain through this training program.” - Supt. Steve Paine

“We hope that this will lead to a certification from AASA,” Paine said. “I would like to request Howard O’Cull of the School Board Association to consider when they have vacancies looking at the credentials that these people obtain through this training program.”

Paine added, “The curriculum has been developed by existing and sitting superintendents for superintendents, so it formalized the training they were doing and the mentorship they were doing last year. It really took it to a much higher level. We do have a combination of state and local superintendents that conduct the training.”

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the legislature enacted House Bill 4301 on transformation of school leadership two years ago, so he is pleased to hear about the new efforts. Paine said the next step will be to develop principal leadership opportunities and then teacher leadership opportunities.

On the subject of new state assessments, Paine made a point of assuring legislators that one of the vendors selected would not bring back to West Virginia testing associated with the abandoned Common Core State Standards. The state board chose SAT, which is one of two leading providers of college admissions tests, to provide assessments for 11th graders, and the American Institute of Research (AIR) to provide assessments for grades three through eight.

Paine called SAT “a very clear choice.” He said it provides a practice portal for students and parents, Kahn Academy videos, provisions for exceptional students and other features that set it apart.  Although Wisconsin uses ACT for its statewide assessments for 11th grade students, he said, West Virginia might be the first state to use SAT that way.

“So this is new ground, and we’re going to have to be very careful to get the results back,” - Supt. Steve Paine

“So this is new ground, and we’re going to have to be very careful to get the results back,” Paine said. Care also will be needed in setting the cut scores, he said.     

The selection of AIR caused more concern for certain legislators and their constituents because it provided a platform for the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium, which was associated with Common Core. But Paine said AIR also provided platforms for numerous other state assessments and recently won contracts with North Dakota and Indiana to provide their statewide assessments. He said AIR’s president has provided assurances in an email that items that will be used for West Virginia’s customized assessment will not be any of the items that were on the Smarter Balanced assessment.

Paine said he had a meeting with three senators – Donna Boley, R-Pleasants; Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson; and Mike Azinger, R-Wood – to assure them that AIR would provide tests that had no association with Smarter Balanced. He said four vendors competed for the contract for the assessments for third grade through eighth grade. He said one that came close to AIR in what it would provide was Data Recognition Corporation, but its bid was twice the price of AIR’s. The one-year price for AIR was $3.7 million, while the price for DRC was $6.4 million, he said. For four years, AIR’s cost was $15.5 million, while DRC’s was more than $28 million, he said.

One concern that legislators had about previous assessments was that it took too long for schools and parents to receive the results. Lou Maynus, assistant superintendent in the Education Department’s Division of Teaching and Learning, said parents should get the results about four weeks after the tests are given. She said scores will be shared with parents in two ways. One will be through an internet portal. The other will be written copies sent to the parents.

 When Rucker asked which stakeholders will be involved in decisions about what scores will be considered proficient, Maynus said parents will be included, perhaps through the Parent Teacher Assocation (PTA). Others to be included will be representatives of higher education, the Education Department and teachers. Rucker asked for county school boards also to be represented.

  Districts work on early literacy.

Monica DellaMea, executive director of the Office of Early Learning, told legislators that each school district has a fully engaged campaign for grade-level reading that aims to close the third grade reading achievement gap. Legislation passed in 2014 is about local control and allows each county the opportunity to develop its own campaign, she said, but no matter how passionate and motivated educators are, schools can’t do it alone. One part of the campaign is high-quality instruction, she said.

“Third grade isn’t a magical year, but it is a milestone where we know that children typically move from learning to read to reading to learn. And if children don’t hit that milestone, the likelihood that they will ever hit that milestone decreases greatly each year after that. They’re more likely to require public assistance. They’re less likely to graduate high school. The statistics are all there that show how critical that third grade reading milestone is.” - Monica DellaMea

“We want good teachers to have high-quality instruction for ages birth through third grade,” DellaMea said. “Third grade isn’t a magical year, but it is a milestone where we know that children typically move from learning to read to reading to learn. And if children don’t hit that milestone, the likelihood that they will ever hit that milestone decreases greatly each year after that. They’re more likely to require public assistance. They’re less likely to graduate high school. The statistics are all there that show how critical that third grade reading milestone is.”

Another part of the campaign is school readiness, such as whether children come to school healthy and with positive dispositions toward learning, she said. West Virginia’s universal pre-kindergarten program is at 76 percent participation, which is good for a voluntary program, she said.

One goal is to decrease chronic absenteeism early on and establish positive attendance habits, DellaMea said. Another is for children to have access to high-quality summer programs where possible and high-quality before-school and after school programs, she said.

The budget has $5.7 million allocated for the grade-level reading program with 75 percent going to the county school districts, which are responsible for designing their own campaigns, DellaMea said. An Early Literacy Network of Support that gets 15 percent of the allocation has early literacy specialists employed through the June Harless Center at Marshall University, she said. They are extensions of the department who go out and work with districts by providing professional learning, she said. The department also has a reporting system to gauge the success of closing the literacy achievement gap, she said.

In addition, DellaMea said, an early learning longitudinal study is going on with the National Association for Early Education Research.

  Declining property values cause problems for many districts.

Legislators also heard from Jeff Amburgey, director of the Property Tax Division of the Tax Department, who told them that property values across West Virginia went down 1.7 percent from the 2016 tax year to the 2017 tax year. That was related mostly to flooding in Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties before the assessment date and the downturn in coal and natural gas production, he said. In particular, he said, Doddridge County, which has much natural gas production, lost 25 percent in assessed value after having doubled previously.

 State Supt. Steve Payne noted that, prior to becoming state superintendent during the last week of March, he spent 90 days as an interim superintendent in Wayne County, which lost $1.2 million of property taxes because of coal company bankruptcies.  That problem is common to several coal-producing counties, he said. There appears to be an uptick in coal production now, but it probably will not return to the level it was, he said.

Paine said he would love to explore with legislators possible changes in the School Aid Formula, especially for counties that are large and sparsely populated. They are struggling with the formula, he said.

On another matter, he said, the Education Department extended an invitation to meet with both statewide homeschooling groups, as the department does with the private schools. Paine said a meeting with one homeschooling group went well. He said the two sides agreed on more issues than they disagreed on and they plan to meet again. He added that Bernie Dolan of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission attended the meeting.

Maynus said Policy 3234 on the school calendar has been changed in response to House Bill 2711, which codified the number of instructional minutes schools should have. For kindergarten through fifth grade, it is 315 minutes. For six through eight, it is 330 minutes. For nine through 12, it is 345 minutes.

“So now, county boards will have the option to add that additional 30 minutes or more of equivalent time to that minimum instructional day, and they can apply up to five days of equivalent time to compensate for any necessary closure of the school facilities – emergencies or weather,” - Lou Maynus

“So now, county boards will have the option to add that additional 30 minutes or more of equivalent time to that minimum instructional day, and they can apply up to five days of equivalent time to compensate for any necessary closure of the school facilities – emergencies or weather,” Maynus said. “They can also plan for up to five days of equivalent time for professional learning experiences for educators where students are not present at any time during that day. And these days are not to be cancelled or used for makeups.”

In addition, county school boards must plan for six two-hour faculty senate meetings, one before the instructional term begins, one before the end of the employment term, and one meeting each in October, December, February and April, she said. Preparation days must be scheduled before the opening of the instructional term and at the close of the employment term, she said. To help school districts handle the new school calendar requirements, the Education Department has prepared a guidance booklet, Maynus said.

Associate Supt. Clayton Burch said the department plans to survey the districts. Department officials think many counties already have 30 minutes in place they can use, so few would need to add time, he said.

Michele Blatt, assistant superintendent in the Division of Support and Accountability, reported that Policy 5202, Minimum Requirements for the Licensure of Professional/Paraprofessional Personnel and Advanced Salary Classifications, is intended to increase flexibility and provide multiple paths to get teachers into classrooms. It still requires high standards for all teachers, she said, but the state school board changed timelines to provide flexibility for teachers to get their renewals.

“We’re expanding the kind of grow-your-own philosophy with teachers, providing some additional things our juniors and seniors can do to get them one step ahead when they enter the college of education,” - Michele Blatt

The Education Department has looked at using proficiency through degree completion in grade-point average for those entering the profession from outside an education college, Blatt said.  “We’re expanding the kind of grow-your-own philosophy with teachers, providing some additional things our juniors and seniors can do to get them one step ahead when they enter the college of education,” she said.

The department is looking at options for renewal to reduce costs for current teachers, she said. For example, she said, the department is using an e-learning platform that provides courses at no cost to teachers. That aligns West Virginia with other states, she said, and it could help especially with career-technology education.

Blatt said there also is a change for coaches. “We had a lot of calls from counties where games and things were having to be cancelled because they didn’t have certified medical personnel, certified athletic trainers,” she said. The solution was to put a stipulation in that one time per season for up to three days certified medical personnel, such as a nurse, a doctor or EMT, could fill in to allow the games to continue, she said.

The legislators also received updates on several other changes in state board policy.  Maynus presented these changes:

  • Policy 2422.7, Standards for Basic and Specialized Health Care Procedures, allows school boards to develop optional policies for school personnel to administer naloxone (or Narcan) for suspected drug overdoses. They also have flexibility to develop policies for school bus drivers to administer epinephrine to students and staff members for severe allergic reactions.
  • Policy 2520.7, West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards for World Languages, places emphasis on what learners can do with languages rather than the words they know. The standards are more user-friendly and easily understood by students, parents and teachers.
  • Policy 2520.15, West Virginia Pre-K Standards (Ages 3-5), includes instructional standards for all content areas for the universal pre-K program to assure alignment between pre-K and kindergarten. They are formatted to align with the College- and Career-Readiness Standards.
  • Policy 2520.16, West Virginia Alternate Academic Achievement Standards, propose three separate sets of standards for science, English language arts and mathematics. They have been developed with the goal of ensuring the 1 percent of students with significant cognitive disabilities achieve high academic outcomes.

Terry Harless, chief financial officer for the Education Department, reported that Policy 4336, West Virginia School Bus Transportation Policy and Procedures Manual, was changed to streamline and clarify the previous policy developed in 2013 and include new language based on recent legislation.

Kathy D’Antoni, associate superintendent for the Division of Technical Education & Governor’s Economic Initiatives, reported on Policy 2520.13, West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Programs of Study/Standards for Career and Technical Education. She said it organizes the stackable skill sets available for students in career-technical programs and aligns them directly with the Department of Commerce’s priorities.       


Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston 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.