News

Overview

Stats

Day of Session

17th

Days Remaining

43

Bills Introduced (Includes House pre-filed bills)

1240

 

 

Quote: "I still believe the prospects of getting the bill through the Senate are excellent. I'm hopeful the (Senate) Finance Committee will take a quick look and get it out next week. The House appears to be looking at this bill with a little bit more skepticism." – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, discussing legislation to hold a special primary election to select candidates for governor. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill Jan. 27. It would set the primary on June 20, the West Virginia Day holiday. Gubernatorial-related issues continue to dominate legislative discussions during the 2011 regular session.

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McKinley Architects & Engineers

Williamson Shriver Architects

The Thrasher Group

January 28, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 5

News

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

Due to various logistics, including changes in presenters’ schedules, the West Virginia School Board Association Winter Conference program has been altered significantly.

For information regarding these changes, refer to “Association” news.

“On behalf of the WVSBA staff, we regret any inconvenience these changes may cause,” according to Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., WVSBA Executive Director.

O’Cull asks members to contact him about program revisions, using either hocull@wvsba.org or by calling 304.346.0571.

 

By Jim Wallace

“I’m really concerned about a teacher shortage within the next five years. I think we have to incentivize somehow to recruit high school seniors to go into teacher education programs.” – Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso

Members of the Senate Finance Committee want to know how to recruit more high school students to go into teaching and how to reform the education system effectively. Those were the main topics they discussed when the Department of Education had its budget hearing before the committee this week.

“I’ve got a real concern, and that’s the recruitment of high school seniors to education programs and future education programs,” Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso said. “I’m really concerned about a teacher shortage within the next five years. I think we have to incentivize somehow to recruit high school seniors to go into teacher education programs.”

Deputy Supt. Jorea Marple said his concern fits well into what the department and the state school board want to do.

“I can’t be any more articulate than you were on the subject, but it is a top priority, and salary is an important component of attracting students to go into education, and that can’t be taken lightly,” she said. “It is a fundamental necessity.”

“The more children have access to technology to see and visualize outstanding teachers and become more engaged in the learning process, the more they’ll want to go into that field.” – Deputy Supt. Jorea Marple

One of the school board’s legislative priorities this year is for the state to give teachers a pay raise. Marple said the department also is working on other initiatives to attract students to teaching. For example, she said, she had met with Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, to go over career models for middle school students to get them interested in teaching at an early age.

Marple said the need for more students to go into teaching also was discussed at a recent Vision Shared meeting, where the consensus was that the first stumbling block is salaries.

“I think technology also can help us,” she added. “The more children have access to technology to see and visualize outstanding teachers and become more engaged in the learning process, the more they’ll want to go into that field.”

Prezioso, D-Marion, agreed that technology is the key. That fits right in with another legislative priority of the state school board, which would like to put $271 million into technology that, among other things, would help schools make a transition from textbooks to digital content.

“What we’re seeing all over the state, we don’t have equity of access to technology,” Marple said. “It is a lifelong commitment to fund technology.”

 

Senator wonders about course of education reform.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, noted that he had seen several education reform programs, including School-to-Work, the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top. So he asked, “What is the next creative approach to reforming education?”

“We’re going to be on this journey for this entire decade.” – Jorea Marple

“I think we’re still on the same journey,” Marple responded. She said No Child Left Behind didn’t close the achievement gap among different groups of students as well as hoped. So she said the state Education Department is trying other means to change education to address the needs of children, including giving teachers the resources and time they need to change the way they teach.

“We’re going to be on this journey for this entire decade,” Marple said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but it’s about building the resources that support the change in instruction and increase the expectations of our students.”

Hall asked her, if she could rewrite certain sections of state code, what would she do?

“I think we have already made some substantial changes.” Marple replied. She said the Legislature has helped that effort by changing the old Basic Skills legislation to 21st Century Skills legislation, and then last year, lawmakers passed Critical Skills legislation. Unfortunately, she said, the $6.2 million needed for the Critical Skills program is not in the budget recommended by Gov. Tomblin, so the department would like lawmakers to put it in.

But Hall expressed more interest in legislation that could make it easier for schools to reassign personnel. “There’s this belief out there that you can’t often get the [right] person in the classroom because of some rule or interpretation,” he said.

Marple agreed that there always could be modifications that could increase efficiency, but she suggested that it might be more important to empower teachers, because they have a tough task to keep all of their students engaged.

“We’re the only country in the world that educates all children,” she said. “In West Virginia, we have almost a 60 percent poverty rate.”

“I think it’s a bad rap when they say we’re not keeping up with the world and we need to do this and that.” – Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall

Hall agreed that schools in other countries don’t try to teach everyone to the same level.

“So I think it’s a bad rap when they say we’re not keeping up with the world and we need to do this and that,” he said. “It’s a false argument. I totally agree with you on that.”

However, Hall insisted he would still like to make it easier for schools to move teachers around. Marple said what she has heard is that teachers need more time to prepare and teach, so Hall suggested getting rid of requirements for a specified number of minutes of classroom time. Marple said the Education Department is considering that.

“If you trust them, trust them,” Hall said.

 

Department presentation was brief.

Education Department officials had less time to discuss their budget proposals with the Senate Finance Committee than they did last week with the House Finance Committee, but they made similar points. For more on the department’s proposals as presented to the House, see the Jan. 21 issue of The Legislature.

In a brief presentation of the budget proposal, Terry Harless, the department’s chief financial officer, noted that the department is asking for only a few items to be given increased funding over the levels they are at in the current year’s budget. One of them is an additional $124,000 for the GED Option program, because of “a lot of successes there.”

When Marple presented the state school board’s three top priorities – pay raises for teachers, lifting the cap on funding for Regional Education Service Agencies and spending $271 million on technology – she said the board realized it’s not easy for lawmakers to grant such requests.

“We do this in great deference and acknowledgement of the reality that there’s a finite amount of money and that you have very difficult and critical decisions to make,” she said.

 

By Jim Wallace

Members of the Senate Finance Committee are concerned about roofs, heating systems and maintenance for school buildings. At least, those were a few of the top concerns they expressed this week when the School Building Authority made its budget presentation to the committee.

“The roofs on these schools have been a constant problem as long as I can remember.” – Sen. Larry Edgell

Mark Manchin, the agency’s executive director, told the committee that roofs have become a major issue as schools age. Fortunately, he said, the authority has been able to use some federal stimulus funding to put new roofs on dozens of schools around the state. He said 37 roofs have been replaced so far and more than a dozen more are scheduled for replacement.

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, said, “The roofs on these schools have been a constant problem as long as I can remember.” He noted that former Sen. Mike Ross, D-Randolph, tried unsuccessfully several years ago to get a bill passed to ban flat roofs on school buildings. Edgell asked if there is anything else that could be done to make roofs last longer.

“We do look at that,” Manchin replied. He said his agency reviews all drawings and professional designs for school buildings and makes recommendations when it finds potential problems with roofs. Not many flat roofs are being built anymore, he said, but the authority still must deal with them on existing schools.

“We’re cooperative in the design of all schools,” Manchin said. “In fact, we do have a quality and performance document that specifically spells out what type of roofs can be used.”

Edgell said he wouldn’t want to deal with the roof issue through legislation. He then asked if the School Building Authority has the same checks and balances for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, mentioning there have been problems with HVAC systems in New Martinsville.

David Sneed, chief of architectural services for the agency, said, “HVAC systems are always a problem. Probably in the future, we’ll use what are called commissioning agents…someone who would actually watch over the designer or the contractor or controls person and make sure that all the systems are functioning as they are designed to.”

 

Senator wants to avoid having schools become dilapidated again.

Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, wanted to know if the School Building Authority has some formula for maintenance of school buildings, just as there is a formula for the maintenance of commercial buildings. He expressed that concern, because Preston County is getting several school facilities built or renovated with the agency’s help after years during which school buildings there became dilapidated.

“Can you reassure me that the buildings which are yet to be built over the next couple of years in Preston County are going to have a requirement for a minimum amount of maintenance and a minimum amount of rehabilitation as a going concern?” Sypolt asked.

“You can spend $1 million a year on maintenance and not do anything.” – Sen. Dave Sypolt

“In fact, there already is,” Manchin replied. He said if there is a reduction in maintenance from one year to the next, a school system will lose certain funds from the School Aid Formula. He learned that the hard way when he served as superintendent in McDowell County, he said.

But Sypolt wanted to know what oversight the School Building Authority has to make sure that maintenance funds are used wisely to restore and revitalize buildings. “You can spend $1 million a year on maintenance and not do anything,” he said.

That’s true, Manchin said, but maintenance spending is the domain of local school boards, not the School Building Authority.

“That goes to the very heart of what your superintendent and what your five board members do,” he said. “Certainly, if we see there are issues we would say something.”

In regard to the care of school buildings in Preston County, Manchin said he doubted the current school officials there would let conditions get as bad as they had in the past. “I think, based on the passage of your bond and the School Building Authority participation at about $25 million and you’re generating almost $40 million at the local level, that will address many of your problems,” he said.

Sypolt referred to the maintenance issue as a “boomerang problem.” He said the old buildings are falling down today because they weren’t cared for 20 to 30 years earlier, but the people who were in charge then are gone and not accountable.

Manchin agreed and said, “That clearly is a responsibility at the local level to ensure that the buildings are being maintained in an effective way, and if it’s not, the people of Preston County and the people of the other 54 counties….need to take charge.”

“I feel like our county is being bailed out right now, and I don’t want to go down that road again,” Sypolt said.

“You’re absolutely right,” Manchin said. “But I will say this: The fact that the people of Preston County decided to take the initiative – and God bless them for doing that, because they rejected it a couple of times – they did say yes. They realize the necessity for new schools to address those needs. They decided to raise their taxes to the tune of almost $40 million at the local level. They’ve taken a step in the right direction.”

Sypolt said he hopes the citizens of Preston County hold the school board responsible for maintaining the school buildings.

 

Local support is a factor but not the only one.

Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, noticed that projects funded by the School Building Authority have varying levels of local support. Some use local funds to match 50 percent of project costs while others match only 10 percent. So Facemire wondered how the School Building Authority determines how much local funding should be required.

“The need far exceeds what’s going to be available.” – SBA Executive Director Mark Manchin

Manchin said there is no requirement in state code, but his agency encourages districts to provide as much local funding as possible. He noted that there is $2.5 billion of school construction needs in West Virginia, but the authority expects to generate only about $800 million of funding over the next several years.

“The need far exceeds what’s going to be available,” Manchin said, so his agency tries to prioritize local participation. He said it’s a good sign that, during the past election cycle, four of five counties with bond issues passed them to generate more than $170 million at the local level. He noted that a recent study from West Virginia University found that every $1 spent on school construction generates $3 in ancillary funds, including goods, services and salaries.

Manchin said the agency’s top priority for projects is the health and safety of children, but second is the effective and efficient use of funds. Nevertheless, he said, if a county is unable to contribute any local funds for a project, the authority still will consider it.

“We do encourage counties to have the wherewithal to participate, because at the end of the day, we’re not in the business of saving; we’re in the business of spending money but in an efficient and effective manner,” Manchin said.

“So what you’re trying to say is, it’s about ability to pay,” Sypolt said. “If they’ve got the money, you expect them to put it up. If they don’t, you understand.”

“If they got the money, we’re going to get it,” Manchin replied.

Facemire suggested saving some money on architects’ fees by building more school buildings that are alike. Manchin, who noted that architects’ fees generally range from 5 percent to 7 percent on new construction, said the School Building Authority already does that. For example, he said, new schools in Berkeley and Monongalia counties are very similar. His agency uses prototypes, which reduces architects’ fees, Manchin said.

“The fear is, Senator, that all of them will be cookie-cutters…that they’ll all look the same like the regional jails,” Manchin said, but he added that schools do not need to look that similar. Facemire said he didn’t see that as a problem.

 

Senators expect alert if company gets more than the contracted amount.

Manchin also gave the Senate Finance Committee an update on the School Safety and Vulnerability Assessment, which resulted from the School Access Safety Act of four years ago that provided $10 million to ensure that schools are safe. He said that $5 million was put into the budget two years ago to provide digital maps and  a vulnerability assessment for every school, along with emergency management plans.

The maps are meant to help police and other authorities when there are safety issues at schools. Manchin noted that more than half of the students who were killed several years ago by gunmen at Columbine High School in Colorado died after police arrived at the site, because the police didn’t know their way around the building. He also said some schools in West Virginia have more than 100 doors, which weren’t seen as a problem when the schools were built but are considered a problem now.

“While this was the lowest bid, my concern is that there is going to continuously be change orders that will actually take this bid up to what others said they would have done and perhaps could have done even better.” – Sen. Erik Wells

In December, the state awarded a contract for the digital mapping work to Patriot Services. Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, asked Manchin to notify the committee if there are any change orders on that contract with Patriot.

“While this was the lowest bid, my concern is that there is going to continuously be change orders that will actually take this bid up to what others said they would have done and perhaps could have done even better,” Wells said. “So I’m concerned about the efficient use of the dollars we are putting toward this.”

Manchin promised to keep the committee informed of any changes in the $2.4 million contract. He said the School Building Authority has set aside another $1.1 million to address any vulnerability that might be identified in school buildings, but he would let lawmakers know if Patriot gets anything above the contracted amount.

Wells said some variance is expected in a contract, but the amount the authority has set aside is almost 50 percent of the contracted amount, so he thought that could be tempting for the contractor to try to tap.

“I don’t think anyone should be awarded a contract in West Virginia and then simply game the system, which I frankly think is going to take place in this case,” he said. “That’s why I want to know about any changes.”

“I hear you and certainly respect that,” Manchin responded.

Sypolt asked if there is any provision for the security assessments to be updated as schools are built or renovated. Manchin said the School Building Authority will work closely with the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety so the state can take care of those issues itself.

The rest of Manchin’s presentation to the Senate Finance Committee, including how his agency leveraged $19 million in state funds into $260 million in school construction funds by taking advantage of federal stimulus funds, was similar to the presentation he gave to the House Finance Committee last week. An account of that can be found in the Jan. 21 edition of The Legislature.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee approved two bills this week and heard more from the West Virginia Education Department about the department’s budget requests.

The committee approved House Bill 2164, after some members expressed concern that not doing so could punish school districts through no fault of their own.

The bill would remove provisions for using assumed assessed values for the purpose of computation of local share public school support. It also would remove provisions for increasing counties’ local share responsibility for funding the basic foundation education formula when property assessments are not at least 54 percent of market value as indicated by the assessment ratio study.

Delegate Walter Duke said it’s the responsibility of county assessors to assure that property assessments are at least 54 percent of market value, but the current law would make school districts suffer if assessors did not do their jobs correctly. He said that would jeopardize as much as $4 million for Kanawha County, the state’s largest school system.

If the provision had been in place in 2002, 11 counties would have been punished, and in 2006, five counties would have been punished, he said. Duke asked how many districts would be affected now.

“The growth is the thing that could throw it under 54 percent, not necessarily that the assessor is not doing their job. They’re doing their job adequately, but the growth – they can’t catch up with it.” – Delegate Walter Duke

Jeff Amburgey, director of the Property Tax Division in the Department of Revenue, said the latest figures he had were for tax year 2009, when four counties were out of compliance.

Duke said he understood that growth in a county could throw off the figures no matter what an assessor does. “The growth is the thing that could throw it under 54 percent, not necessarily that the assessor is not doing their job,” he said. “They’re doing their job adequately, but the growth – they can’t catch up with it.”

“Occasionally, that’s the case,” Amburgey agreed. His agency monitors counties each year, he said, and the counties that were deficient in 2009 were very close to being at the 54 percent level. Data for tax year 2010 should be available in March, he said.

Delegate Stan Shaver, D-Preston, asked if anything happens to assessors who don’t make sure that property assessments are at least 54 percent of market value. Amburgey said they get called before a commission that oversees property evaluation and procedures.

Because assessors are elected officials, Shaver figured there was no provision to remove them from office if they don’t perform well enough. Amburgey said there is a provision to remove assessors from office, but he was not aware it had ever been used.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, asked whether Amburgey’s agency had any trouble supporting the bill.

“I spoke to the tax commissioner,” he replied. “He says we’re neutral on this.”

Poling then asked whether Amburgey thought it would be effective to punish the school system for the assessor’s actions.

“I think that’s a policy decision,” he said, meaning that the Legislature should determine that.

“[The bill] would punish the school systems for something that’s arbitrarily beyond their control concerning the residential median ratio assessment.” – Delegate Walter Duke

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, D-Kanawha, asked if a deficiency in one county would have any effect on other counties. Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, said there would be a very indirect effect, because the state has a limited amount of money. When education funding is lower than it should be for one county, it could take away from other counties, he said.

Duke indicated he wasn’t pleased that the law “would punish the school systems for something that’s arbitrarily beyond their control concerning the residential median ratio assessment.” As he noted earlier, he said Kanawha County schools would lose $4 million in state funding if the property assessment fell out of compliance. Several other counties could lose $1.2 million to $2.2 million, he said, and the average potential loss to a school district is probably between $400,000 and $500,000.

Shaver pointed out that the funding for local districts at issue is part of local share funds for which lawmakers gave school boards more flexibility than they previously had.

“This process was put in place a few years back with the intent of using local share to assist in increasing salaries for teachers and service personnel,” he said. “The intent among legislators was just that. It was not placed directly in statute that it had to be used for that, but it left boards of education the opportunity to make those decisions themselves. I’d just like to reemphasize now that it is up to 10 percent and that boards of education continue to take a strong look at making sure that that money is, if at all possible, put toward increasing the salaries of school teachers.”

The committee approved House Bill 2164 and sent it on to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

The committee also approved House Bill 2648, which would increase the faculty senate allotment for classroom teachers and librarians from $50 to $100 each for spending on academic materials, supplies or equipment to enhance instruction. A second reference to the House Finance Committee was waived, so the bill went directly to the full House of Delegates for action. It was in a position for potential passage by the end of this week.

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee also took up two bills on Thursday afternoon. One is House Bill 2511, which would permit a county board of education to include in any revenue bond for construction projects the cost of the demolition of buildings. The other is House Bill 2435, which would allow the School Building Authority to designate money for the building of playgrounds. Those bills had not yet been considered by the full committee by late Thursday, but the committee was scheduled to have a 9:00 a.m. Friday meeting. 

 

Delegates consider letting RESAs spend more.

The committee also gave further consideration of budget proposals from the Department of Education and the state school board. One of the board’s requests is for the Legislature to remove the cap on funding for Regional Educational Service Agencies. Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, wanted to know how much outside money the RESAs generate.

Chuck Nichols, superintendent of RESA III, said the state put $3.9 million into the RESAs budget last year, but their total budget was about $44.5 million. “So we used $3.9 [million] to leverage grants from the Department of Education, from the state, from the Benedum Foundation, from the U.S. Department of Education,” he said.

Paxton, who is vice chairman of the committee, indicated he would support the request to remove the funding cap for the RESAs, especially considering that the state board also wants schools to do more with technology.

“Whenever we’re talking about making computers available to every student and increasing the broadband [connections], I see nothing but an enhanced role for RESAs,” Paxton said. “Are you all going to be able to come up with that?”

“Without additional funding, it would be very difficult,” Nichols replied.

Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, asked where the funding would come from if the Legislature removed the cap on RESAs. Mohr said it would come out of general revenue. Nichols said that if the cap were removed, the RESAs’ funding in the budget would go up to $5.4 million.

 

Delegates have concerns about technology request.

Committee members also were concerned about the school board’s request for $271 million for technology and its intention of helping schools make a transition from textbooks to using more digital resources. Delegate Margaret Smith, D-Lewis, wanted to know if that would mean doing away with textbooks.

Brenda Williams, executive director of the Office of Instructional Technology, said the school will always have textbooks, but more instructional resources would move to handheld, slate-like computers (such as iPads or Kindles). She said it is getting harder to find textbooks that meet the state’s criteria. For example, in the latest round of textbook reviews, no social studies books were found to meet West Virginia’s standards.

“We’re not doing away with textbooks. It’s like Kindle books. Your textbook is now on the computer with all the resources that go with it. So all children would have access to a textbook, but it’s on a computer versus carrying a 50-pound backpack.” – Deputy Supt. Jorea Marple

The department held meetings with teachers all around the state, Williams said, and they said they were ready to make the shift to digital resources.

To that, Deputy Supt. Jorea Marple added, “We’re not doing away with textbooks. It’s like Kindle books. Your textbook is now on the computer with all the resources that go with it. So all children would have access to a textbook, but it’s on a computer versus carrying a 50-pound backpack.”

Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, asked whether schools would need more technical assistance in developing applications for the digital units. Williams said that’s not a big concern.

“Most of the applications we’re looking at are already developed,” she said. “We already have partnerships. On our Learn21 site, many of those applications are already there. All they would have to do is just access that. We also have teachers though that are developing those types of apps and content.”

Lawrence said she would expect some professional development efforts would have to be directed at helping teachers learn the new technology. She said her mother, who is a teacher, has run into equipment problems when she has tried to do online assessments.

Williams said that is one reason why the state school board wants more technical specialists in the schools.

Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, asked how much the state would save by not buying textbooks. Williams said the savings is expected to be about $18 million a year.

“It would be taking what they’re already doing and just moving it from a text-based, out-of-date option to a digital option,” she added.

“It would be taking what they’re already doing and just moving it from a text-based, out-of-date option to a digital option.” – Brenda Williams

Delegate Brian Savilla, R-Putnam, said that, as a teacher, he has had technical problems with classroom computers. In a class of 26 students, he said, he never has had 26 computers working at one time. Williams said that is why the department’s budget request has an item for increased wireless and infrastructure capacity. She said teachers have told the department that the infrastructure must come first.

Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, said he favors the proposal, because he has seen that students can do a lot with computers.

“This is not going to happen all this year,” Marple assured the delegates. “This is about many, many years of implementation to fix the electric issues, to fix the wireless issues.”

However, she said that, since 2003, the public education system has lost $28 million in technology funding. That’s “moving in the wrong direction,” Marple said, and there must be better funding for technology.

 

By Jim Wallace

The state’s chief revenue forecaster expects little change in West Virginia’s budget for the next fiscal year, but sees trends that could affect schools systems’ finances in the years ahead.

Mark Muchow, deputy secretary of the Department of Revenue, provided his outlook on budget and revenue this week at a legislative briefing breakfast sponsored by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

The budget Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has proposed for fiscal year 2012 is not much different than the budget former Gov. Joe Manchin proposed for the current fiscal year, he said. But one of the few new programs Tomblin is promoting is incentive pay for teachers who work in high-need subjects, such as math and science, and in certain geographic areas with teacher shortages, Muchow said.

 

West Virginia fares relatively well.

West Virginia has done better than surrounding states during the economic downturn of the past few years, he said, and the economy is rebounding. The mining sector, which represents less than 10 percent of direct employment in the state but about 20 percent of the growth and earnings, has helped West Virginia do as well as it has, Muchow said.

“Interesting for state budget purposes, the valuation of natural gas properties declined by about $2 billion in the most recent valuations. And that will likely lead to the need for the state to provide enhanced aid through the School Aid Formula, because overall property tax numbers may be down this year for the first time in recent memory.” – Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow

“It has led us to a situation where we have improved our per capita earnings from 49th to 47th recently,” he said, adding that the natural gas industry also has helped. However, Muchow said revenue from natural gas is much more volatile than that from coal, because natural gas pricing tends to vary more.

“Interesting for state budget purposes, the valuation of natural gas properties declined by about $2 billion in the most recent valuations,” he said. “And that will likely lead to the need for the state to provide enhanced aid through the School Aid Formula, because overall property tax numbers may be down this year for the first time in recent memory. The property yield for schools is actually lower than the prior year. That has a lot to do with the natural gas industry price reductions and the value of property, but just a couple of years before this, we saw a big upswing in natural gas property taxes. So we had a big upswing followed by a big downswing.”

West Virginia was fortunate to have escaped most of the effects of the housing bubble that hit most of the nation, Muchow said, but the Eastern Panhandle was a notable exception.

“There was a big run-up in prices in the early part of the [last] decade,” he said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a downtrend in housing prices, and that’s beginning to show up in the assessed values by the county assessors. In all three [far] Eastern Panhandle counties, the assessed values for property taxes are going down in Class II property, which is owner-occupied residential. In other areas of the state, they continue to go up. Certainly, Monongalia County is one of the leading counties in terms of growth in the state and housing prices are still rising in Mon County. Kanawha County is fairly stable, pretty close to the statewide average. In some counties, growth in property values for residential properties is tied more to county assessors playing catch-up than it is to actual market trends.”

 

Rainy Day Funds are in good shape.

“In West Virginia, unlike other states, most of the local school money comes from state government not from local government, and the local government is highly constrained by various restrictions in terms of its ability to fund government services, so they tend to have over more services to us over time.” – Mark Muchow

Muchow said West Virginia is ranked among the top five states for having rainy day funds as a percentage of the budget. The $633 million West Virginia has in its pair of Rainy Day Funds is about 17 percent of general revenue and 15 percent when general revenue and lottery are considered together, he said. That’s important, Muchow said, because more than 20 percent of state revenues come from lottery and severance taxes, which tend to be volatile.

“In West Virginia, unlike other states, most of the local school money comes from state government not from local government, and the local government is highly constrained by various restrictions in terms of its ability to fund government services, so they tend to have over more services to us over time,” he said.

Out of the general revenue portion of the budget, aid to public schools takes the biggest portion at $1.2 billion, followed by Medicaid and the Public Employees Insurance Agency at $695 million, and then pensions at $575 million. “Most of that is unfunded liability for teachers’ retirement, which is in the neighborhood of $450 million,” Muchow said of the spending on pensions. “Fortunately for teachers’ retirement, there are only 23 more years to go to pay that down.”

Next comes higher education, but he said it is most susceptible to cuts, because colleges and universities can get money in other ways, such as tuition and fees. “As the health care side of the budget tends to increase, the higher education share of the budget will tend to decrease,” Muchow said. “There’s a crowding out effect there.”

 

Long-term liability is a concern.

Although West Virginia is doing relatively better than most other states, it has some long-term issues to address, such as the $4 billion liability in public retirement systems, mostly in the Teachers Retirement System, he said.

“We made great progress there,” Muchow said. “Not more than six to seven years ago, we were only about 18 percent funded. We’re now closer to 50 percent funded. There’s 23 years left on the plan. The plan generally calls on flat-lined funding, which is good for the future of the state.”

“Some folks in the Legislature are working on that problem, but that is more of a budgetary problem than a revenue problem.” – Mark Muchow on OPEB

The other major liability for West Virginia is OPEB – other post-employment benefits – which is estimated to be about $8 billion, mostly for health care benefits promised to current and future retirees from the public sector.

“Some folks in the Legislature are working on that problem, but that is more of a budgetary problem than a revenue problem,” Muchow said. “That is, ultimately there may need to be some revenue to shore it up, but it’s not a whole lot different than other health care-related programs such as Medicare.”

By that, he said, he meant that people tend to expect much more out of Medicare in benefits than they have paid into it through payroll deductions.

“I see it as a budget matter just like it would be with health care in the private sector,” Muchow said about OPEB. “Changes will have to be implemented over time to bring it under control.”

Although he did not mention it, one of the big issues involving OPEB is whether school boards should have to carry a share of the liability on their books. Last year, 50 of the 55 school boards sued the state to have that responsibility removed, but were unsuccessful initially in court. However, some lawmakers are considering legislation that would make the state mostly responsible for OPEB liability.

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.

 

 

 

 

By Zack Harold

While West Virginia's average teacher salaries rank 43rd in the nation and total teacher compensation ranks 28th, educators fare pretty well compared to other state residents.

West Virginia teachers make, on average, 122 percent of the state's median household income.

That's the third-highest percentage in the nation, behind only New York (129 percent) and Arkansas (126 percent).

Teachers here made, on average, $45,595 in the 2009-2010 school year, according to a National Education Association report. The state's median household income was $37,677 at that time, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

West Virginia's surrounding states did not rank as high. Ohio and Kentucky teachers' average salaries were 117 percent of those states’ median household incomes in 2009. Pennsylvania's teacher salaries were 115 of the state’s median income.

Maryland and Virginia teachers’ salaries fell below their median household incomes. Maryland educators’ average salaries were 93.5 percent of the state’s median income, and Virginia’s teacher salaries were only 81 percent of the median household income.

Of course, West Virginia's percentage is helped by its low incomes: it has the lowest median income in the nation.

The state’s average teacher pay ranks below that of surrounding states. Kentucky teachers made an average of $48,354 in the 2009-2010 school year, and Virginia teachers made $49,999, according to the NEA figures. Also that year, Maryland teachers made an average of $65,333, Ohio educators made $55,931 and Pennsylvania teachers made $58,122.

And West Virginia's average teacher salary is likely to sink further as Baby Boomers reach retirement age. Longtime educators are leaving the classroom in droves and being replaced by lower-paid and less-experienced teachers.

 

Total compensation yields different rank.

However, West Virginia ranks 28th when teacher salaries, wages and benefits are considered. Educators’ average total compensation was $75,447 in 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That also falls well below some surrounding states, however.

Virginia and Maryland teachers’ average total compensation in 2008 was $104,558 and $104,905, respectively, according to the Census figures. Ohio teachers’ total compensation was $84,712, and Pennsylvania teachers received $82,590.

Kentucky ranked behind West Virginia in total teacher compensation but not by much. Educators there made $74,507 in total compensation in 2008 – just $940 less than teachers here.

"We're not competitive with our contiguous states and that’s where we’re losing." – WVEA President Dale Lee

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, says the state’s low pay makes it difficult for school systems to recruit and retain quality teachers. If educators don't leave the profession altogether after a couple of years, they hop to another state where they can make more money and enjoy better job benefits, he said.

"You cannot retain and attract people into the profession with the salaries we're paying," Lee said. "We're not competitive with our contiguous states and that’s where we’re losing."

He said 1,254 of the state’s more than 20,000 teachers did not have an education degree, only a teaching permit. Another 756 teachers had "out-of-field authorizations," which allow teachers to lead classes they’re not trained to teach, such as history teachers teaching science class or health teachers teaching math.

That usually means English or math teachers in special education classrooms, Lee said. Lee said the Kanawha County school system alone has more than 30 positions it can’t fill this year.

"That 2,000 number is only going to increase," he said.  "At this point, we can’t afford not to (increase salaries). Our kids deserve the best education possible."

Lee said some people consider Maryland’s education system the best in the nation. He said there’s a "direct correlation" between that state’s high teacher pay and student achievement increases.

"They don't have the problem of getting and retaining certified teachers in every classroom," he said.

Some state lawmakers are attempting to raise West Virginia teachers’ pay. Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed a one-time, $800 bonus for teachers in his State of the State address earlier this month.

Some public workers’ representatives, including Lee and Bob Brown, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, are working with House of Delegates members to make that bonus a permanent raise.

Last Friday, Kanawha County Delegates Danny Wells, Nancy Guthrie and Barbara Hatfield, along with Logan County Delegate Ralph Rodighiero and Cabell County Delegate Dale Stephens – all Democrats – introduced a bill that would give all school personnel a 6 percent salary increase beginning July 1.

Zack Harold is a writer for the Charleston Daily Mail. This article is used by permission.