News

Overview

Stats

Day of Session

10th

Days Remaining

50

Bills Introduced (Includes House pre-filed bills)

921

 

 

“It’s the game after the game. That’s where people get upset…” – West Virginia University basketball coach Bob Huggins in comments following Wednesday’s Capital Classic held at the Charleston Civic Center. Marshall University, in what was one Charleston sports writer described as a “classic shocker,” defeated WVU 75-71. 
Photograph used by permission of the Charleston Daily Mail 

Inside

The Thrasher Group

McKinley Architects & Engineers

Williamson Shriver Architects

January 21, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 3

News

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

By Jim Wallace

One of the biggest issues occupying legislators’ attention these days is when to elect the next governor and how to do it.

On Tuesday, the West Virginia Supreme Court issued an opinion calling for an election for governor this year, not next year.

Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, has been acting as governor since Nov. 15, when former Gov. Joe Manchin resigned to become a U.S. senator. Tomblin had contended that the state Constitution did not call for a new election until next year, but the Supreme Court sided with plaintiffs who asked for an election this year.

Although state law provides for the political parties to choose their candidates in party conventions, many legislators and most, if not all, of the potential candidates for governor want the Legislature to change the law to provide for a primary election in late spring or early summer and a general election by fall.

Meanwhile, members of the Senate remain divided over the reorganization of the Senate in the absence of Tomblin. Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, and others contend that Tomblin should return to preside over the Senate even while he carries out the duties of the governor. They oppose having Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, serve as acting president in Tomblin’s absence.

 

By Jim Wallace

Union leaders representing teachers and school service personnel are hopeful that legislators will turn the one-time bonus proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin into a regular pay raise. But an aide to the governor said the administration would fight that.

Tomblin has proposed giving teachers an extra $800 and school service personnel an extra $500. Other public workers would receive either $500 or a 2 percent increase, whichever is bigger. In his State of the State address, Tomblin said he wished he could do more but wanted to be careful about the budget. However, some members of the Legislature have been looking at making the increases regular pay raises that would boost base pay in the years ahead.

“We’re working very hard to get it turned into a pay raise. A one-time bonus doesn’t do anything to attract and retain people into the profession.” – WVEA President Dale Lee

“We’re working very hard to get it turned into a pay raise,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said Thursday. “A one-time bonus doesn’t do anything to attract and retain people into the profession. You cannot address the core problems of education until you address the salary issues, because we’re not getting enough qualified, certified people in the classroom.”

The state school board also is recommending pay raises for teachers. Jorea Marple, deputy state superintendent, told the House Finance Committee on Tuesday that the board believes better pay is needed to get highly qualified teachers in every classroom. West Virginia ranks 47th in the nation for teachers’ salaries. During the 2008-2009 school year, more than 2,000 of the state’s 22,000 teachers were on first-time permits or teaching outside of their fields of expertise, and that problem is believed to have become worse since then.

“We’re not getting people into the profession, because the salaries are so low,” Lee said. “Until we address that, a one-time bonus does nothing to entice people to come in.”

Lee said the response so far to the pay raise proposal has been good from lawmakers in both the House of Delegates and the Senate.

“This is not about greed; this is about getting qualified, certified people in front of our students, and our students deserve it,” he said.

But Rob Alsop, Tomblin’s chief of staff, said the administration won’t acquiesce to changing the bonus into a pay raise.

“We will fight that,” Alsop said. “At the end of the day, we don’t think we need to add another $50 million to our base budget. Gov. Tomblin would love to pay teachers more, but the simple fact is: We’ve got to make sure we’re not facing a situation we’re raising taxes.”

By remaining stable, West Virginia would become much more attractive to businesses, he said.

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Board of Education is asking legislators to give pay raises to educators, lift the spending cap on Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) and put about $271 million into improving educational technology.

“The job of a teacher in public education continues to increase in difficulty as our poverty level continues to increase in the state.” – Deputy Supt. Jorea Marple

Jorea Marple, a deputy state superintendent and candidate for the superintendent’s position, told members of the House Finance Committee this week that the state school board voted unanimously to present those three items as their top legislative priorities. Marple joined Ted Mattern, who has been serving as state superintendent since former Supt. Steve Paine left earlier this month, and other Department of Education officials in explaining the department’s budget during the committee’s budget hearing.

“The job of a teacher in public education continues to increase in difficulty as our poverty level continues to increase in the state,” Marple said in explaining the board’s pay raise request. “It’s a very tough job being a teacher in our public schools. And during the 2008-2009 year, almost 2,000 teachers were either on first-time permits or on out-of-field authorizations. So the state board of West Virginia encourages you to take a critical look as it pertains to pay raises to attract and maintain highly qualified teachers in every classroom in West Virginia.”

Gov. Tomblin has proposed a one-time bonus of $800 for teachers and $500 for school service personnel, saying the state budget is too fragile to add a permanent, ongoing expense. But some lawmakers have expressed interest in passing a pay raise instead.

Marple said the state board wants lawmakers to lift the current spending cap on RESAs, because they are an integral element for delivering professional development, technical support, technology and adult education programs. The board maintains that the RESAs save taxpayers thousands of dollars by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the public school system.

 

Board emphasizes technology improvements.

The board’s request for more funding on technology is “a big one,” as Marple put it, but she said it is necessary.

“We live in an age now where technology is fundamental to public education, and it is about equity of access to technology,” she said. West Virginia already is moving from using textbooks to using digital resources, and by 2015, a national assessment will be delivered electronically, Marple said.

Brenda Williams, executive director of the Office of Instructional Technology, told committee members that the state already is being forced to go to digital resources for social studies because none of the textbooks submitted on the subject meets the state’s standards.

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he was concerned that numerous inaccuracies recently were found in history textbooks in Virginia. He wondered if West Virginia’s system is able to prevent such faulty textbooks from being adopted. Mattern said that is one reason why West Virginia is moving toward using more digital resources, which are easier to correct. Marple added that the state’s standards for reviewing textbooks are strong enough that no current social studies books qualified. She said the state will have a combination of digital resources and textbooks in the future.

The proposal for $271,127,400 for educational technology spending does not include about $12 million for fiber connections to 471 schools. Williams said that work is being funded as part of a grant from the federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program, which the state Department of Commerce secured.

“When that grant was submitted through Commerce, Commerce had several different anchor tenants, as they call them, and 471 of those schools were listed,” she said. “We were only allowed to submit the names of schools that at that time did not have the fiber connections that we were trying to reach through this BTOP grant.”

 

Teacher recruitment is getting tougher.

“We need ways to attract highly qualified teachers and to retain them.” – Jorea Marple

Some delegates were concerned about Marple’s comment that about 2,000 teachers in the 2008-2009 school years were working either on first-time permits or out of their fields of training. Marple said the exact figures were 1,254 on first-time permits and 756 out of field. Delegate Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison, asked if having about 2,000 teachers out of a total of about 22,000 was a large number compared to other states, which also have been having trouble recruiting math and science teachers.

“I think it is a large number, and it is an increasing number,” Marple said. “It is not just about math and science. It’s about foreign language. It’s about English. Particularly, we see it growing in areas where it’s difficult to get teachers at all. The reason I presented that is this is going to continue to escalate. We need ways to attract highly qualified teachers and to retain them. Particularly if you have adjoining states that are paying a higher scale, you’re going to have your teachers who are most qualified choosing not to teach in West Virginia.”

Iaquinta said there are pockets of shortages not only of teachers but also of people in specialized professions like psychiatry. “In a small state, it’s kind of hard to recruit psychiatrists or any profession to go to some of these rural, isolated areas,” he said.

“I would say that, in my 15 years in the Legislature, teacher morale from what I can tell is the worst it has ever been.” – Delegate Tom Campbell

Delegate Tom Campbell, D-Greenbrier, said teachers’ morale is likely a big reason for shortages.

“I would say that, in my 15 years in the Legislature, teacher morale from what I can tell is the worst it has ever been,” he said. “Teachers are retiring as quick as they can get out of the classroom. Young people are not encouraged to go into it, because their teachers tell them not to.”

Marple agreed and said, “The job of the teacher is becoming increasingly more difficult. As poverty increases and as technology increases, to be able to work and use all these resources and to make them interactive and dynamic with the students is a very, very difficult job.”

 

Conflicting claims puzzle one delegate.

Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, noted that the Education Department officials began their presentation to the committee with a list of successes. For example, Mattern told the delegates that West Virginia made the top 10 in the Quality Counts 2011 report from Education Week with an overall average B- grade with B+ being the top average grade any state received.

Carmichael wondered how such information could be reconciled with West Virginia’s poor performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and with the statements former Gov. Joe Manchin made last summer, when he cited numerous problems in the education system as he tried to get the Legislature to pass a series of education reforms.

“I think that we do have a distance to go obviously based on the NAEP scores,” Marple responded. “As we move with more rigor in the classroom, as we have provided and will continue to provide professional development, and teachers become more comfortable and familiar with the rigor that’s in the content standards now, I truly believe we’re going to see improvement. We’re on that path now. We’re not totally there.”

“I want to make sure there’s not a fundamental disconnect between what’s being reported in the public and the leadership from the administration of former Gov. Manchin,” Carmichael said. “We have miles to go to get to national averages.”

Considering that West Virginia ranks poor nationally and the United States ranks poor internationally, he said, “We need to do something to game-change this.”

 

Education audit got sidetracked.

Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, asked what had happened to the audit of the education system that received much attention last year. Joe Panetta, assistant superintendent for student support services, said former Gov. Joe Manchin was pushing for it.

“That has been on the backburner since the governor has become senator,” Panetta said. “I understand Gov. Tomblin is very interested in continuing that, but as far as I’m aware, not a lot of the work has been done to obtain a firm to conduct that audit.”

Delegate Manchin then said college professors have told him that many students are not able to read and write well enough to take college courses. Marple said problems like that are among the reasons things are changing in the system.

“We have started the process of restructuring public education, which starts with some foundational things: raising the rigor of our content standards so we’re no longer asking for more rote recall of students,” she said. “We’re getting an understanding. One of the board’s goals is to increase student achievement, so students are more ready for college.”

Marple said some results of the changes are encouraging, such as an increase in one year of 30,000 students participating advanced placement, dual-credit and other such courses. “We’re working with higher education for the delivery of those courses within our secondary schools,” she said. In addition, she said, fewer first-year college students need to take remedial math and English/language arts courses.

To further reduce such problems, Marple said, the state has raised the accountability level of WESTEST2. The Education Department also has created a college transition math course for high school seniors who do not do well enough in math on WESTEST2 during their junior year, and it is working to do the same in English/language arts.

Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, said he thought the department is on the right track in trying to provide more career-technical classes for middle school and high school students and integrate other academic requirements like math concepts into those courses.

“If you get those kids interested, you’re not going to have to worry about a high number of dropouts,” he said. “They’re going to want to come. They’re going to want to learn.”

“Actually, as poverty increases, the need for more physical activity is appropriate. Elementary schools will tell you they need fulltime physical education teachers to ensure that children get the physical activity they need.” – Jorea Marple

Delegate Doyle said physical health plays a big role in mental health, so he was concerned that too many students are obese, which could impair their educational achievement.

“I think you make an extraordinarily good point,” Marple replied. “Actually, as poverty increases, the need for more physical activity is appropriate. Elementary schools will tell you they need fulltime physical education teachers to ensure that children get the physical activity they need.”

The department is looking at ways to enhance physical activity, she said, and hopes to have recommendations ready by spring. Unfortunately, Marple said, such recommendations are often accompanied by the need for additional staffing.

 

Fewer counties are hurt by formula changes.

Education Department officials also made presentations on the budget and the School Aid Formula to the House Education Committee.

Susan Smith, executive director of the Office of School Finance, said that changes made in the formula beginning in 2008-2009 are still being phased in over five years. Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, noted that there was a “hold-harmless clause” when the changes were implemented to make sure they caused no districts to lose funding. He wondered if the number of counties falling into that category was increasing.

But Smith said that isn’t the case. “Over this implementation period, we have found that the number of counties being held harmless has actually decreased, and for the ’11-’12 year, there is only one county,” she said. “Hopefully, in 2012-13, there will be none.”

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, was concerned about trends in transportation costs.

“We did see a spike when the fuel costs greatly increased a few years ago, but that seemed to have come down some,” Smith said. “Now, we are starting to see it again.”

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said she thought the Legislature had provided supplemental appropriations in the past to help school districts when fuel costs got high. Panetta said she was correct, and that might have to happen again.

“They’re projecting gasoline to go up to $5.00 a gallon,” he said. “Obviously, diesel costs are even higher than that. If they do go up this year that much, there very well may be a need for supplemental funding.”

The House Education Committee plans to have department officials return in the next week or so to discuss the improvements they want in the budget, not all of which were included in Gov. Tomblin’s proposed budget.

 

By Jim Wallace

The past few years have been tough economically for many people, but it has been a great time for school construction in West Virginia.

Mark Manchin, executive director of the School Building Authority, told the House Finance Committee this week that more than $500 worth of construction is under way, being designed or identified for funding in the state. He credited a piece of legislation for much of that.

“I’m very proud of what we have accomplished over these last three years as a result of Senate Bill 297, which was passed in 2008,” Manchin said. That bill authorized the School Building Authority to use a $19 million allocation of Excess Lottery funds to issue bonds. It also authorized extending the terms of the bonds from 10 years to up to 20 years.

“We were the first state in the union to be given access to Qualified School Construction Bonds. In fact, there were only a few states that had that ability. We were able to hit the ground running.” – School Building Authority Executive Director Mark Manchin

Manchin said that bill then put West Virginia in the position to use low-interest money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – the federal stimulus law – which provided for Qualified School Construction Bonds. The state received allocations of $78.2 million in those bonds in 2009 and again in 2010 with very low interest rates, he said. 

“It gave us that leverage to borrow at least $130 million,” Manchin said. “We were the first state in the union to be given access to Qualified School Construction Bonds. In fact, there were only a few states that had that ability. We were able to hit the ground running.”

West Virginia borrowed $29,465,175 at zero interest, $41,421,363 at 1.76 percent and $59,548,994 at 2.17 percent, which is an effective interest rate of 1.5 percent, he said. The state had another $2.7 million available after matching all the federal stimulus funds available. Manchin said he called the Public Resources Advisory

Group, which advises the state on financial matters, to figure out what to do with that extra money. He said the state ended up generating another $25 million in the market from that, so the $19 million his agency began with from Senate Bill 297 eventually leveraged $260 million in funds for school construction.

Separate from that, the state received $3.3 million in Federal Energy Efficiency Grants, administered by the West Virginia Division of Energy, and $12.8 million in Federal Education Grants. Manchin said that money has been used to put new roofs on 51 schools in 51 counties.

A summary of active School Building Authority projects for the period of Jan. 1, 2008, through the end of 2010 includes 11 new elementary/primary schools, seven new middle schools and three new high schools. It also includes 116 major and minor renovation projects.

 

Digital mapping of schools is beginning.

Another project that is under way is the digital mapping of school buildings, as provided by the School Access Safety Act of 2009, which allocated $5 million. Cabell County is the pilot county for the project, which will eventually provide for every school in the state to receive:

  • Digital mapping of the actual facility;
  • A vulnerability assessment; and
  • An emergency management plan.

Manchin said schools in Wayne County will get the digital mapping after Cabell County. He said the data from the project will be entered into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Critical Management System by Patriot Services, which received a contract for the work in December. Patriot is to have 16 people in eight teams of two persons each to visit all the schools in West Virginia over about three years.

After hearing about how much money the School Building Authority has been able to put into projects over the past few years, Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, wanted to know how much funding will be available for the next round. Mark Manchin, who is the delegate’s cousin, said that next year unfortunately looks as though it will be a lean year. He said his agency might be limited to whatever the Legislature appropriates on a pay-as-you-go basis.

But Manchin said the agency is working with the Public Research Advisory Group to identify regular lottery funds that will mature in 2014. He said there might be a ways to accelerate that, which could mean that funds would be available for the School Building Authority to go back to the market in 2013.

Delegate Manchin asked how the agency decides between renovating old schools and building new ones. Mark Manchin said the agency has a formula for that. Basically, he said, the authority would pay only 60 percent of costs to renovate a building that is 30 years old or older.

 

Bond issues do well.

Upon further questioning, Manchin said the prospects for getting county bond issues approved seems to be improving. He said four counties – Marion, Preston, Hancock and Pleasants – passed bond issues this year; only Gilmer County failed to get one passed.

“We sent a message out that, if we work together, that perhaps we could do so much more than just one school.” – Mark Manchin

“We sent a message out that, if we work together, that perhaps we could do so much more than just one school,” Manchin said. “As a result of that, counties are generating at least 50 percent of the funds necessary, whereas in the past it was 60/40 or 70/30. Now, it’s about 50/50. We simply don’t have the funds necessary to address all the needs.”

The total need for school construction projects across West Virginia amounts to more than $2 billion, he said, but the School Building Authority expects to generate only about $800 million over the next 10 years.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, wanted to know how many “green” – or environmentally friendly – schools are under construction. Manchin said his agency still is trying to get a good handle on how much such schools cost.

“But there will always be certain sustainability qualities designed in every building,” he said. Since 2008, the agency has been required to incorporate the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building system into new school designs to make buildings high performance. Manchin said the agency is following many LEED guidelines without necessarily getting the LEED designation on buildings.
 

Editor’s Note: -- Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail and former news director of West Virginia Public Radio. He now works for TSG Consulting in Charleston and writes for several national and West Virginia publications.