News

December 11, 2012 - Volume 32 Issue 25

 

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

 


By Jim Wallace

That change is coming to West Virginia’s public education system should come as no surprise to anyone. But the direction that process has gone in the last month has been full of surprises as top leaders set a course for what could be more comprehensive change than many people might have imagined just a few weeks ago.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin set the process for change in motion more than a year ago when he commissioned an efficiency audit of the system. Since the state received results of that audit in January, analysis of its recommendations by several groups inside and outside of state government has been slow and methodical. The pace, as well as the impetus behind it, altered considerably in mid-November, and the road to change got bumpier.

Much remains to be decided in the next few months, but after three state school board meetings and a significant meeting of a legislative interim committee – all in the latter half of November – several things have become clear:

  • The board wants to make bold changes.
  • Many legislators want to make even bolder changes.
  • There is newfound commitment to making the system less top-heavy with more authority to be delegated to RESAs and county districts.
  • Teacher effectiveness will be redefined and count for more in employment decisions.
  • The ways schools use technology will be realigned.
  • Sentiment is growing for changing how school calendars and school days are defined.
  • Frustration with the current system is so high that anything about it is up for potential change.

The audit is so central to this new wave of reform that one state school board member referred to it as “our Magna Carta.” But the event that shocked many people and signaled how sweeping the upcoming changes could be was the state board’s decision on November 15 to fire Jorea Marple as state superintendent of schools less than two years after she had assumed the position. It came with essentially no warning and hardly any explanation. The two board members on the losing end of the five-to-two vote against Marple – Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips – announced they would resign from the board by the end of the year because of Marple’s dismissal.

Since then, many people, including 20 who spoke at the next two board meetings, have decried the decision.

“I strongly feel that Dr. Marple was the change education needed to see in West Virginia.” – Karan Ireland

“I strongly feel that Dr. Marple was the change education needed to see in West Virginia,” Karan Ireland, the mother of a son and daughter in public schools, told the board at its November 21 meeting. She also said: “Dr. Marple approaches all of her work with an unwavering commitment to students and educators. She is an outstanding visionary and works diligently regarding teacher pay, school nutrition, pre-K education and organizational leadership.”

But then, addressing Wade Linger, president of the board, directly, Ireland said, “I’d like to take credit for that glowing commendation, but those are not my words. They’re yours, Mr. Linger. You used those words to describe Dr. Marple fewer than four months ago at about the same time when the board awarded her with a $2,000 per year salary increase, so why the sudden change?”

Such questions from Ireland and others who complained to the board about the decision to fire Marple largely went unanswered until the board’s meeting on November 29. (For more on public comments made to the board, see “Marple’s firing stirs plenty of criticism for state board” elsewhere in this issue.)

 

Board takes several hours to review response to audit.

The main purpose of the board’s November 21 meeting was to review and approve the board’s response to the audit in time for Linger to present it to legislators the following week. That response had been months in preparation with the help of Donna Peduto, whom the board hired expressly for that purpose. Although Linger indicated that he had expected board members to have resolved their issues with the response before the meeting, Haden insisted on going through it point by point. At the end of that meeting, which lasted almost five hours, Linger thanked her for “a wonderful process” that helped show the input each board member had in developing the response.

The board’s response to the audit, which is 130 pages long, is available online from the Department of Education’s website at: http://static.k12.wv.us/tt/2012/audit-response-2012-11-28.pdf.

The response has two parts. Part I is the board’s “Call to Action,” a narrative with five sections under the main themes of the audit that are organized generally in the order of importance determined by the board rather than the order they are presented in the audit. Part II is the board’s response to each recommendation in the audit. Here is how the board laid out the themes of Part I according to priority:

 

Develop, Reward and Retain Great Educators

  • Launch a Comprehensive Plan to Prepare and Recruit the Best Teachers
  • Establish an Evaluation System Modeled After National Best Practices and Research
  • Improve Teacher Compensation to Attract and Maintain the Best Teaching Corps Possible
  • Strengthen School Leadership

Raise Educational Quality Statewide

  • Re-imagine Instructional Time
  • Revise West Virginia’s Accreditation System

Align Education to Work Force Needs and Careers

  • Prepare West Virginia Students for Their Future

Empower Learning through Technology

  • Personalize Education with Technology
  • Promote 24/7 Learning
  • Provide Technology Support
  • Advocate for Online Access
  • Fully Fund the West Virginia Virtual School
  • Expand Digital Content

Maximize Operational Efficiencies

  • Reorganize the WVDE
  • Redefine Administration
  • Assess 55 County Boards of Education
  • Streamline the Professional Development System
  • Expand the Capacity of Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESAs)
  • Re-imagine West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS)

The board referred to those items as “game changers,” critical measures that should be addressed immediately.

On the issue of reorganizing the Department of Education, Haden asked whether the board should do that or leave it up to the state superintendent. Linger said there is no way for the board to flesh out all the details, so the superintendent should propose how to do it. He said he believes in the “nose-in-fingers-out” theory.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Linger said. “Most of that is a result of the audit.”

Board member William White said the buck stops with the board, but an effort like reorganizing the department must be a collaborative effort. The reorganization of the department around functions rather than funding streams began months ago under Marple’s direction. At last report, about 30 positions, including six top-level positions, in the department had been left vacant. But the board diverged from the audit’s recommendations on how to reorganize the department.

“We’re basically disagreeing with the audit that says just go in and slash positions,” Linger said. “We’re saying, before we do that, let’s make sure we understand what the department’s going to be doing and how it needs to be organized based on how many of these other recommendations take place.”

 

Roles for RESAs would grow.

On the audit recommendation to consider expanding the department’s role using the RESAs as vehicles for improved assistance to school districts, board member Gayle Manchin said the board needs to push more authority down to RESAs and county districts. She said the RESAs need more support from the department so they can be more responsive to schools. Phillips noted that when funding is transferred from one level to another so are people.

“Invariably, we find ourselves talking about the adults and not the kids, and we’ve done that right here. If we need to send people from this department to the RESAs to see that schools perform better and our kids perform better, then that’s what we ought to do.” – Wade Linger

Linger said the focus needs to be on helping students perform better. “Invariably, we find ourselves talking about the adults and not the kids, and we’ve done that right here,” he said. “If we need to send people from this department to the RESAs to see that schools perform better and our kids perform better, then that’s what we ought to do.”

The audit makes several recommendations about the School Building Authority, but the board disagreed with a few of them, including: putting staff and responsibilities of the Office of Facilities into the SBA; establishing the SBA as the single point of responsibility and authority to address energy issues; and eliminating the SBA expenditure for two-year heating, ventilation and air conditioning maintenance contracts and the department’s cost for backing up current HVAC technicians.

When Haden asked if the roles of the SBA and the department were going to be redefined, Linger responded, “I think we stayed a mile away from that, although since it was in the audit, where we had something to say about it, we had to get them advice.”

The board agreed with the audit’s recommendation that the Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Jackson County should be turned over to some other agency. “We’re saying that we believe that running a camp like Cedar Lakes is not something that the West Virginia Board of Education should be doing,” Linger said. “We assume something meaningful would be done with it.”

Phillips said she thought some deed restrictions would result in Cedar Lakes reverting to its previous ownership if the board would give it up, but board member Lloyd Jackson said that should not alter the board’s response.

“I think it’s the right policy statement,” he said. “The board of education doesn’t need [to be] in the camp business. Maybe there are some restrictions to stop that from happening, but restrictions in deeds are made to be negotiated with people when you go talk to them. Just because it’s in the deed doesn’t mean it can’t be circumvented someway or somehow.”

The audit recommends amending state code to allow counties to use nurses and other appropriate health professionals in all health care agencies such as federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to serve as school nurses. Linger said the board is not in favor of “firing a bunch of nurses,” but members believe the Legislature should modify code to give counties more flexibility in using health care professionals.

 

Small counties get special attention.

The board agreed with another audit recommendation to establish an initiative through the department to help small counties create job-sharing arrangements, but the board went a bit further. Its response calls for county boards to meet within their RESAs to determine how to effectively and equitably share services and submit reports to the state board by July 1. It also calls for setting up a broad-based blue-ribbon commission to study the future of small school systems. That commission would be expected to report its conclusions to the board by January 1, 2014.

Haden asked why the board should set up a blue-ribbon commission on small school systems. She said the issues of small districts have been studied before. But Jackson defended the establishment of the commission, because “we didn’t get it done the first time.” He added that he thought the audit was deficient in not saying more about the problems of small districts and whether West Virginia can afford to continue to have 55 separate school districts, each with its own administrative costs.

“This deserves to be addressed,” Jackson said. “It’s not popular. I think we refer to it as the third rail of education politics. It clearly is that, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. This is one small way to start addressing that issue.”

Further, he said, addressing that issue could result in having fewer school districts taken over by the state board. “If you look at the counties we’ve taken over by this school board, the one thing is leadership with every one of them, but the second leading item is they can’t deal with their finances because they lose enrollment,” Jackson said.

“The issue here is one of trying to preserve at the local level the flexibility and the efficiencies that at least will provide a means for school systems to operate but not as they’re operating now, because there will be so few students in some of the school systems that the Legislature will have to keep appropriating money, funds, et cetera...We have to think of a new dynamic.” – Howard O’Cull

During that discussion, the board called on Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, which had given the board some input on the issue. He noted that the association received at its late October conference at Stonewall Jackson Resort “very sobering” information, including the projection that 47 districts will lose student population in the next 10 – with some counties losing up to 15 percent or more of their school age populations.

“The issue here is one of trying to preserve at the local level the flexibility and the efficiencies that at least will provide a means for school systems to operate but not as they’re operating now, because there will be so few students in some of the school systems that the Legislature will have to keep appropriating money, funds, et cetera…We have to think of a new dynamic,” O’Cull said.

To address these issues, O’Cull referred to Senate Bill 14, which became law in 1988. One of its provisions required county boards to meet with each other to see how they could share services.  O’Cull suggested it’s time to reschedule those conversations but within the context of administrative services the Regional Education Service Agencies might provide or which county boards could develop by cooperating together as permitted under terms of a 1989 law.  

He also noted in 1932 constitutional amendments created county school districts and also capped local taxation capabilities. Further, the Legislature also regulates tax levy collection rates. “We’ve gotten into systems that have to be supported by giving them artificial numbers of students,” O’Cull said. Phillips said some districts already are sharing substitutes and back-office positions. O’Cull said those arrangements are becoming better known.

Along that line, the board’s response also agrees with an audit recommendation to establish a comprehensive strategic planning process to review each RESA’s capabilities, strengths and current services.

“We really have some work to be done with RESAs going back to what they were set up [for], what their responsibilities are supposed to be. So again, the audit gives us the opportunity to address them.” – Gayle Manchin

“RESAs were the first to say there was a broad lack of communication of schools being aware of the services they could offer,” Manchin said, adding that the audit brought the issue to the board’s attention. “We really have some work to be done with RESAs going back to what they were set up [for], what their responsibilities are supposed to be. So again, the audit gives us the opportunity to address them.”

The audit estimates that such comprehensive strategic planning for the RESAs could save $782,000 a year based on 10 percent projected cost-savings in insurance, communications, utilities and energy, supplies and equipment. Linger took discussion of that point as an opportunity to address the audit’s projected savings, which total $90 million a year. He said it’s not easy to point where in the budget such savings can be found.

“I hope that by implementing this, which is really kind of a simple thing to do, that we’ll save that much money a year,” Linger said in regard to the recommendation about RESAs. “But can we really point to the budget where to find this $782,000?”

The audit also recommends clarifying the core services each RESA should provide and identify opportunities for collaboration. Haden and Manchin said the audit has revealed that state board members don’t know enough about RESAs.

The board’s response agrees with an audit recommendation to streamline and focus RESA oversight and accountability but disagrees with the audit’s recommendation to eliminate the regional councils that oversee RESAs. Linger said the education system is already too centralized, so the regional councils should be retained.

 

Board declines to accept audit’s position on school calendar.

On the subject of the school calendar and the school day, the board differed with a few audit recommendations.  The audit recommends mandating 180 days of instructional time and providing consequences for districts that do not meet that goal, but the board said it instead wants to expand the definition of instructional time to include using electronic methods for around-the-clock learning, authentic real-world experiences, and “learning outside the school walls and beyond the time constraints of the current school day.” The response also says, “Quality of instruction is not about time spent in seats but engagement of students resulting in increased academic achievement.” In addition, it recommends a “balanced calendar,” which many people also refer to as a year-round calendar.

Phillips wanted to know if that meant the board is recommending an alternate calendar for every district but saying it’s OK not to meet 180 days, but Jackson said the board is instead recommending a different way to look at it.

“We have fought this battle about getting kids in school 180 days for decades, and we’ve mostly been unsuccessful in getting that accomplished the way people define it. There’s lots of reasons for that, most of which are totally institutional things by groups that just don’t want to see anything change.” – Lloyd Jackson

“We have fought this battle about getting kids in school 180 days for decades, and we’ve mostly been unsuccessful in getting that accomplished the way people define it,” he said. “There’s lots of reasons for that, most of which are totally institutional things by groups that just don’t want to see anything change.”

Jackson said the school system has been bound by an outmoded agrarian calendar, which has many bad effects. “In the summertime, kids lose a lot of what they learn, and unfortunately, the statistics show the poorer the kid the more they lose,” he said. “We also know that nutrition is a real issue for kids in West Virginia all across this state, and it’s a disaster for a lot of kids in the summertime. They don’t get, if not one square meal, certainly not three square meals a day, as well as provided in the school system.”

A balanced calendar also would result in more efficient use of school buildings rather than letting them sit empty three months a year, Jackson said. Most of the balanced calendar models have kids going to school for 45 days and then having 15 days off with a little bit longer break in the summer or some other time,” he said.

“The smart thing to do if you’ve got air-conditioned schools is [have breaks] in the winter when the biggest culprit to getting in school time is the weather in a lot of places in the state,” Jackson said, and that would give counties and schools flexibility to focus on the kids. “Now, there’ll be some resistance, but the resistance won’t be from kids. It’ll be from the adults, as usual.”

On the 180-day requirement, Jackson said, the board wants to establish that “mere seat time isn’t necessarily the way to measure that in the future, particularly in a more modern calendar approach. Yes, kids need adequate instruction, and yes, some minimal amount of time in the seat probably will have to be had to make sure no one abuses that right. But look what we can do with technology. Look what we can do with kids and technology. Look as the places we can take them.”

Phillips said she agreed with that but was afraid the board’s recommendation might seem contradictory. Jackson said it just says there should not be consequences merely for missing the goal of 180 days of instruction. “What we ought to care about is what the students know and our ability to demonstrate what they know,” he said, and some schools might be able to do that in 175 days.

 

Board wants to try new ways to ensure teachers are prepared and effective.

The board agreed with another audit recommendation about ensuring that teacher preparation programs are accountable for the quality of teachers they produce, and it went further. The board wants to form a committee to develop a definition for teacher/educator effectiveness that would be called the West Virginia Teacher Effectiveness Measure and would be tied to reliable and measurable outcomes. It would be developed by June 30.

The board response also agrees with an audit recommendation to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the quality of their graduates. When Phillips asked how the board would do that, Jackson said that was a great question.

 “I really do believe this board has been far too timid in this area. We have tended to review schools on process. In my opinion, we probably, if we were doing our duty as general supervisors of the system, ought to be reviewing schools more on output, on how their teachers perform once they get in the classroom and what’s happening there.” – Lloyd Jackson

“I really do believe this board has been far too timid in this area,” he said. “We have tended to review schools on process. In my opinion, we probably, if we were doing our duty as general supervisors of the system, ought to be reviewing schools more on output, on how their teachers perform once they get in the classroom and what’s happening there. And we ought to be providing that feedback to the schools, and once that feedback cycle starts, Jenny, we ought to be holding them accountable for the production of what they’re giving us. If that means that they have to have higher standards for admission to meet that, that’s fine. That’s what we ought to be looking at. But I think we’ve so far been too process-oriented and not enough outcome-oriented in that area. It will take us years to get there. We do not need to be heavy-handed in this. We need to change some of the focus of how we accredit the schools of higher education. I’ll bet you a lot of their staff will be very appreciative if we do that.”

After the board finished its review of the audit response and made a few changes, Linger said that didn’t mean the board was done with it. “There is no reason it can’t be a living document,” he said. “It should be.”

When Phillips balked at approving the response on the day before Thanksgiving, saying the public would not have enough time to comment on it, board member Mike Green disagreed.

“This is a living document. This will continue to evolve for a long time, perhaps as long as we’re alive.” – Mike Green

“For all intents and purposes, this has been released to the public, and this is version 1.0,” he said. “This is a living document. This will continue to evolve for a long time, perhaps as long as we’re alive.”

 

 

 

Member praises audit response.

Jackson, who served in the West Virginia Senate, including several years as chairman of the Education Committee, said going through the audit and responding to it had been a good process. “Our response isn’t just about the audit,” he said. “If you will read the first part of our response, it’s about what the board thinks we ought to be doing going forward.” He added that delving so deeply into policy issues had made that meeting the best board meeting he had ever attended. 

“I sort of see this document, if you will, as our Magna Carta, our way of saying to the people of West Virginia what we think education ought to be and what our role as a board ought to be in it. I think we use it to elevate our place in this whole scheme of things of public education.” – Lloyd Jackson

“I sort of see this document, if you will, as our Magna Carta, our way of saying to the people of West Virginia what we think education ought to be and what our role as a board ought to be in it,” Jackson said. “I think we use it to elevate our place in this whole scheme of things of public education. But probably more importantly, I think this board has been too timid for too many years about what we do in education. And because of that timidity, I can tell you as a former chair of an education committee for eight years, they fill that gap in the Legislature. If we leave one, believe me, that vacuum gets filled. And I think it’s high time the board quit leaving those vacuums or at least have the debate with the Legislature, the governor and everybody else involved about those things….because I think we’ll find them more receptive to our input than we realize.

Jackson said the board should be a partner with the governor and the Legislature both in making policy and also in helping to administer that policy. He added that the audit has provided a good opportunity to talk about what is really important in education.

“We have great teachers in West Virginia, and it is so important,” Jackson said. “The system will not work without great teachers. We have to pay our teachers more money. We got to find ways to do that, but we have to train them better, prepare them better and frankly we have to hold them accountable to a very high standard, because they do supervise and teach the most precious things in our lives. That’s our children.”

Further, he said, the balanced calendar “is no small thing. Just ask the coaches how small it is when we start talking about a balanced calendar in West Virginia. Or talk to the teachers who want to go ahead and get their professional development. We have to work to make all of those things happen, but I believe we’ll have a better education system if we address those things.”

Jackson said another effect of the audit process is that the board and others have learned that students with a career-technical focus tend to score better on SAT college preparedness standards than students with a pure academic focus. “For too long, we have ignored that in West Virginia, and this report puts us on that path again,” he said.

Technology could be a game-changer, Jackson said. “It is going to change the way we teach classes, the way people interact with those things, and it is just so critical to what we do that every student have that opportunity,” he said.

The audit and the response initiated much discussion about efficiency, and Jackson found “efficiency” to be an important word for what is ahead.

“I want to remind people that the Constitution of West Virginia requires the Legislature to establish a thorough and efficient system of schools, not a cheap system of schools. There is nothing cheap about a thorough and efficient education system, but we can make ours much more efficient.” – Lloyd Jackson

“I want to remind people that the Constitution of West Virginia requires the Legislature to establish a thorough and efficient system of schools, not a cheap system of schools,” he said. “There is nothing cheap about a thorough and efficient education system, but we can make ours much more efficient. And yes, that will mean changes in the department and at the RESA level, but it probably won’t mean less money. When you talk about more pay for teachers and more technology in our classrooms, 90 million bucks won’t start to get at the problems and the holes we have in West Virginia…. This state cannot be successful unless we have a great public education system, and that system supersedes the want, the needs and desires of any one of us or any individual in the state.”

Jackson concluded by sharing some advice: “My father told me when I first got in the Legislature – he had been there for 24 years before me – he said, ‘Son, that seat was there before you got there, and it’ll be there when you leave.’ That applies to every one of us sitting in this room today and everyone that works in this department. What we talked about today is the most important thing we will talk about, notwithstanding all the controversies surrounding us today – is the most important thing we’ll talk about probably this year and next year in implementing the system of education in West Virginia. We have to be the board that makes these things happen. I’m proud to be part of this board.”

 

Legislators get results of public forums.

The board approved the audit response without dissent. That allowed Linger to present it to legislators on November 27 at the meeting of Education Subcommittee B. But before the subcommittee heard from Linger, it received a presentation from Vision Shared, as public-private cooperative established in 2000 to help West Virginia become more economically competitive. Vision Shared held eight forums in June and July to get public comments on the education efficiency audit.

Rebecca McPhail Randolph, president and chief executive officer of Vision Shared, told the subcommittee that the goal of the forums was to identify potential starting points for acting on the recommendations in the audit. Participants were asked to identify resources that might be needed, potential challenges and possible solutions for overcoming those obstacles, she said.

The forums brought together 213 participants: 42 percent were school system employees, 20 percent had other connections to education, and less than 8 percent were from the business community.

Randolph said Vision Shared concentrated on three categories of recommendations in the audit:

  1. Enhancing collaboration among education and workforce development;
  2. Supporting and improving school building leadership and classroom teaching; and
  3. Making West Virginia a leader in remote technology and distance learning.

Participants each were asked to choose one of those categories and participate in breakout discussions. Randolph said most people chose the second subject. She said Vision Shared considered consensus to be agreement among participants at three or more of the forums.

“What we did note is that participants appear to recognize a lack of coordination by these entities around the state.” – Rebecca McPhail Randolph

The forum participants found consensus on five audit recommendations under the objective of enhancing collaboration between education and workforce development:

  • Enhance strategic planning and collaboration between West Virginia’s education, workforce and economic development.
  • Develop integrated performance measures in workforce and education.
  • Improve the use of job forecasting data to plan secondary and post-secondary programs.
  • Support different high school design approaches.
  • Better integrate career preparedness into the standard curriculum.

“What we did note is that participants appear to recognize a lack of coordination by these entities around the state,” Randolph said.

The actions the participants thought were necessary to improve coordination of efforts include:

  • A facilitated planning process to align strategic goals and objectives across agency/organizational boundaries that would include at a minimum the Department of Education, Workforce Development regions, the state Development Office and community and technical colleges.
  • Commitment from agency leaders to work across traditional boundaries.
  • Dialogue between business and industry groups and the education system focused on developing meaningful performance measures.
  • Improved level of interaction between community and technical colleges, employers and public education.
  • Better data about employment needs and job trends including such data for regional job markets that extend across state borders.

Participants also reached considerable consensus on the audit’s objective of making West Virginia a leader in remote technology and distance learning. The recommendations they endorsed include:

  • Continue to work with private sector carriers to ensure high-speed broadband Internet access for teachers and students.
  • Ensure that all public school students and teachers have accessible computers or similar mobile devices.
  • Ensure all students have access to high-quality digital content and online courses.
  • Hire an adequate number of technology integration specialists to support teachers.
  • Increase training in curricular use of technology.

The people at the forums identified several resources or actions needed to see that those recommendations are fulfilled:

  • Investment in broadband access.
  • Adequate funding to purchase, maintain and upgrade hardware devices.
  • Additional flexibility at the local level related to lease-purchase agreements and access to Apple, Inc., products.
  • A 1:1 ratio of hardware devices to students so all students can benefit without having to wait their turn.
  • More funding for technology support.
  • Assurance of some teachers that technology applications are intended to supplement classroom instruction and will not be used to replace teachers.

“There was no consensus related to mandating 180 days of instruction time.” – Rebecca McPhail Randolph

However, forum participants had trouble reaching consensus on other proposals from the audit. “There was no consensus related to mandating 180 days of instruction time,” Randolph said. Participants expressed such concerns as increased personnel costs, lack of time off in summer for teachers to pursue advanced degrees and doubts that more classroom time would translate into better student outcomes.

Likewise, participants reached no consensus on establishing an evaluation system for educators modeled on national best practices and research. Some people thought the current pilot project should run its course.

On the subject of recruiting the best teachers, there was consensus on only one point. That proposal is to provide scholarships at state universities for aspiring teachers and active teachers who seek to purse advanced degrees and who pledge to work in West Virginia schools for at least five years.

Based on the discussions at the forums, Vision Shared reached several conclusions:

  • Participants in the regional forums were generally supportive of moving forward with strategies to prepare students for the workplace through collaborative efforts involving the public education system, community and technical colleges, regional workforce development councils, and the state Development Office.
  • There appears to be a substantial level of support for moving forward with many of the recommendations related to improving remote technology and distance learning.
  • Increased investment to train teachers in the curricular use of technology was supported at all forums.
  • Most of the proposed recommendations related to section 2.2 of the Public Works audit report (Supporting and Improving School Building Leadership and Classroom Teaching) are not well supported. Many of the forums were unable to reach a consensus on moving forward with any of the proposed recommendations related to mandating 180 days of instruction, teacher evaluation, teacher compensation, and investing in principals.
  • Based on facilitator observations, a continuing dialogue among professional educators, parents, the business community, workforce development, and other stakeholders would be useful in building the necessary consensus for improving public education.

Vision Shared official calls for substantial change.

Newt Thomas, co-chairman of Vision Shared’s education committee, told legislators the outcome of the forums was disappointing, but the audit has resulted in a better understanding of the education system. He said public expectations of the system are not being realized.

“A sense of frustration is evident,” Thomas said. “The tendency, of course, is to blame the student test scores on teachers, facilities and other inadequacies without a clear understanding of the impediments created by the structure of governance, regulation and adherence to practices that are ineffective in a contemporary environment.”

“I think the audit has identified this insufficiency. The time has come for a comprehensive change or reform in the public school system.” – Newt Thomas

Thomas said legislation has been enacted over the years to improve the system. “But absent, I believe, has been the sufficient attention to the delivery system necessary to implement these initiatives and to achieve the expected outcomes in student performance,” he said. “I think the audit has identified this insufficiency. The time has come for a comprehensive change or reform in the public school system.”

The audit has identified what should be considered, Thomas said, and a bipartisan group from the Legislature should help form the plan for reform. He said improved student performance is one of Vision Shared’s four major objectives, and his organization stands ready to assist in that effort.

 

Board president says board wants bold change.

When it was Linger’s turn, he began his testimony before the subcommittee by saying, “Of all the people in this room right now, I’m probably the most happy this day has come.”

“The board is committed to changing a policy that encourages business as usual. No more building-delivered, teacher-focused, time-bound learning. We are not satisfied with our current levels of performance and progress.” – Wade Linger

Noting that the name of the report with the board’s response is “Audit to Action: Students First,” he said, “Throughout the process, that was the exact attitude we had. There are an awful lot of adults in this system, and we want to make sure they’re taken care of, but getting right down to it, it’s about the students, not the kids. The audit has set the stage for a change in culture regarding education. The board is committed to changing a policy that encourages business as usual. No more building-delivered, teacher-focused, time-bound learning. We are not satisfied with our current levels of performance and progress. However, we do consider this response to be a good starting point in the search for change.”

            Linger said the board’s response focuses on several “game-changers”:

  • Develop, reward and retain great teachers: A board committee will create the West Virginia Teacher Effectiveness Measure. “If we’re going to actually use teacher effectiveness in any kind of a meaningful way, we have to define what that is,” Linger said. “We have to know what an effective teacher is and how to measure it.” June 2013 is the board’s self-imposed deadline to do that. “Seniority is one factor for filling vacancies, but seniority should not be the determining factor,” he said.
  • Establish career ladders: “In the technology business, you don’t have to leave the technology field in order to make a good salary,” Linger, whose career has been in the technology field, said. He said educators need similar opportunities.
  • Raise education quality: Revise the teacher accreditation system, because there are several types of accreditation now. “The board feels that that’s confusing, and a lot of these things overlap, and it’s not very efficient,” Linger said. “We think we can really revise that so everybody knows what the rules of the game are.”
  • Align education to workforce needs and careers: Use cross-counseling, which would have colleges send counselors like recruiters into high schools and middle schools.
  • Empower learning through technology: The board wants a 1:1 ratio of resources to students. “We know that’s expensive,” Linger said. “We really would like to see though a pilot, maybe one in each RESA.” Letting students bring their own devices is another way to accomplish that. “We know that every student doesn’t have an iPad or a smartphone, but a lot of them do,” he said. “And if we simply implement Bring Your Own Device, for everyone that brings their own, that’s one less we have to buy. They’d rather use their own anyway, trust me.” The board also wants to release policy restrictions and to expand the virtual schools program so that it is akin to a 56th school district.
  • Maximize operational efficiencies: The board put that subject at the end of its response. “The board thought that it’s probably better to really figure out what it is that you’re going to be doing before you decide how many people you need to have doing it.” Linger said. The board wants to discuss the struggles of small counties and the “future of the 55-county board system.”

“Those are what we call the big rocks,” Linger said.

 

Legislators also want a more streamlined system.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said, “Our system is top heavy.” He asked if the board is looking at reducing people in the administration.

Linger said there are a couple of ways to look at it: There are too many people in the department and there are too many regulations in code. He said the department already has started to reorganize around how jobs should be done rather than funding streams. “We need to get more of those people out in the field where the rubber meets the road,” Linger said. “So we’ve actually recommended that some of the positions that are sort of congregated in and around Building 6 that we need to look at peeling those out into the RESAs or out into the counties where they are needed.” Although the department has started reducing positions already, the board doesn’t want to rush into it, because members need to find out what the governor and the Legislature want to do about education reform.

“We’re pretty strong for using teacher effectiveness in the process by which advancement and hiring and those kinds of things should go as opposed to a system where seniority is such a heavy emphasis. We’re not saying do away with seniority. We’re saying it shouldn’t be the thing. But we realize that if you’re going to do that you have to know what an effective teacher looks like.” – Wade Linger

When Armstead asked about how teachers would be evaluated, Linger said, “We’re pretty strong for using teacher effectiveness in the process by which advancement and hiring and those kinds of things should go as opposed to a system where seniority is such a heavy emphasis. We’re not saying do away with seniority. We’re saying it shouldn’t be the thing. But we realize that if you’re going to do that you have to know what an effective teacher looks like.” He said the committee the board intends to create will figure out how to measure teacher effectiveness.

Linger added that the board wants to start with school-based incentives. “We’re recommending a new accreditation process, so we’re going to be able to measure the performance from school to school pretty readily,” he said. The best schools would be rewarded, Linger said, and “that will start a process of the system getting used to the whole idea that doing a better job and being recognized as such leads to better incentives.”

 

Legislator questions need for state department.

One of the most negative sets of questions came from Delegate Brian Savilla, R-Putnam, who said, “Since the department has been created, we have seen increased sized, increased regulation and increased spending over the years. And in contrast, we have not seen increased school attainment.” He noted that several county school boards have been taken over by the state, and things have gotten worse in those districts.

“Why do we have the Department of Education? Why can’t we eliminate it and return powers to the county level, supposedly where we’re trying to fix it anyway?” – Delegate Brian Savilla

“Why do we have the Department of Education?” Savilla asked. “Why can’t we eliminate it and return powers to the county level, supposedly where we’re trying to fix it anyway?”

Linger said he wasn’t the person to address such questions, but noted that the state school board is a constitutional body. “This current school board is stepping up to the plate, and we’re certainly not satisfied, and we’re going to take bold steps,” he said. “There is nobody on this board of education that is any way satisfied with being at the bottom of the barrel.” West Virginians spend among the highest in the nation on education compared to their median salaries, but school performance is at the other end, Linger said. The state board is very aware of that and wants to work with legislators to change it, he said, adding that the recommendations in the board’s response could be the turning point.

But Savilla noted that many of the board’s recommendations call for spending more money, not less. He asked what justifies that.

“Every single instance in here where we’re talking about spending more money, we’re talking about spending more money in response to demonstrated excellence not mediocrity,” Linger said. “In no place in this document do we recommend pouring more money into the system just for being there. I think that’s unique.”

Savilla, who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state and will not return to the Legislature in 2013, said he has been in the education system as a teacher for seven years. During that time, he said, he has seen the “strong hand of the Department of Education.”

“The biggest thing we can do is to remove policies and remove onerous requirements on teachers to spend a lot of time filing reports that come back to go on somebody’s spreadsheet or somebody’s chart back in Charleston. The board is sensitive to that.” – Wade Linger

Linger said the state board already has repealed about 60 of its policies in the past year. He said the board is ready to take another big step by having fewer department employees in Charleston and more people in RESAs and out in the field. “We do talk about spending money on technology but make no apologies for that,” Linger said. “It’s expensive, but the return on investment is there.”

Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, said the current education system asks teachers to fill many roles – to counsel, teach character education and other things they’re not trained to do. “How do we let them teach?” he asked.

“The biggest thing we can do is to remove policies and remove onerous requirements on teachers to spend a lot of time filing reports that come back to go on somebody’s spreadsheet or somebody’s chart back in Charleston,” Linger said. “The board is sensitive to that.”

 

Board would build on work done to determine teacher effectiveness.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, asked whether the new teacher effectiveness measure would have to be developed from scratch or whether the board would use the results of what the Educator Evaluation Task Force has worked on for two years.

Linger said the work that has been done is a primary piece of it, but it doesn’t do it all. He said that, if you can’t tell what the effectiveness of teachers is, the system isn’t good enough. “We need something that’s robust and objective,” he said.

When Poling asked if the new measure would use student performance on some kind of standardized test to determine the effectiveness of teachers, Linger said he did not know what all would be included, but “I know the answer is not some standardized test.” He said the board’s committee would come up with something, but members don’t want to use another state’s standards.

Poling also wanted to know why the board did not go along with the audit’s recommendation to put the Center for Professional Development into the Department of Education.

“As far as actually having supervision over the CPD, the board put the brakes on. That’s the starting point. If you want to twist our arm, we could change our mind about that.” – Wade Linger

“We drove right up to that line, and we do talk about bringing it over all together and under single governance that will get together and make sure that we don’t have these overlaps,” Linger said. “But as far as actually having supervision over the CPD, the board put the brakes on. That’s the starting point. If you want to twist our arm, we could change our mind about that.”

When Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked what would be the board’s priority starting point in 2013, Linger responded that the first section of the board’s response is laid out in the order of importance. He then noted that much has been said about potential savings from following the audit’s recommendations, but it is hard to match the savings projected by the auditors to spending in the budget.

For example, Linger said, the auditors said that if each county would hire an energy specialist as Harrison County did, the savings would be $6 million a year. A bus-routing system would save $1 million a year. Bus-related cooperative purchasing would save $700,000 a year. Changes in professional development would save $2.2 million to $6 million. Linger said the board plans to do everything except moving CPD into the department, the RESA purchasing plan would save $5.1 million, getting the e-rate (a federal program for discount Internet access for schools and libraries) for RESAs would save $800,000 a year, and reforming the way bus drivers are used would save another $1 million. He said that totals at least $17 million in “things that are probably pretty much no-brainers.”

Perry said some of those items would require statutory changes. Linger said, “Some of it would, but they’re all probably pretty easy and wouldn’t really hurt anybody. The trick though is when you start talk about we’re going to save $5.1 million through the RESA purchasing plan, they’re talking about taking a certain percent of this huge number across the whole state and it’s going to be saved to get to that $5.1 million. Where do you go in the budget to find that? On some of these things, we’re really going to need to work together to take advantage of these savings to know where the money is so we know where to move it from so we can put it in the areas where you want to reallocate back into education.”

When Perry asked how the Legislature should respond to the board’s requests, Linger said the board already is taking action on issues over which it has control. In December, the board will assign some issues to committees, and for items that require code changes, the board will look forward to working with the governor’s office and legislators to see what can be done and how soon.

Perry expressed concern that teachers are being pulled out of their classrooms too much for professional development and asked what the board’s position is on that. “We’re against it,” Linger said. So Perry asked, “How can that be conveyed to counties and the Department of Education?”

“One way is through these policies we are eliminating,” Linger said. “Frankly, it’s an attitude change. It’s a culture change. And I think you’re going to see with this and the changes that are going on…a culture change.”

Linger said the board agrees with Perry and other legislators that simply requiring 180 days of instruction is not what is needed. “You can’t say that seat time doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “We’re not suggesting that at all, but the important thing is what kind of learning is going on, and that is not measured in terms of time. We agree with most of the recommendations in this audit. We didn’t agree with 180 days. We don’t think that’s what we should be measuring. We should have individualized learning, and if one child can get it and move on, let him get it and move on. If another child is a little slower and needs a little more time, that child should have a little more time. That child that needs more time shouldn’t be holding up the other child, and the child that is moving ahead should be embarrassing the one who takes a little more time. We have the technology now to do that.”

 

Education chairman wants stronger change.

Although Linger indicated he thought the board was advocating a clear, bold direction for education reform, Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, did not think so. “I wish you would be more clear sometimes instead of the gobbledygook that I read here.” He then read a sentence from the board’s response: The board will begin to release the policy bounds that perpetuate building-delivered, teacher-focused, time-bound learning.

“Now that is seat time, I guess,” Plymale said. “What is that really saying? It looks like a lot of things sometimes that we get from the department, where it is probably a great, great literary feat that they put it that way, but when you try to put it in English, what does it really mean?”

Linger said he didn’t write it, but he would they to explain it. “It means we need to recognize that we’re in a culture now where these kids are on 24/7,” he said. “We need to be paying attention to and measuring what kind of learning is going on.” Linger said the system shouldn’t be so focused on getting in 180 days of instruction each year.

When Plymale asked if the board supports having school district adopt the balanced calendar, Linger said, “I don’t know that I would go so far as to call it a priority. We feel pretty strongly that we need to allow more control throughout the counties, where they know what they need and what works best for them. We think it’s a good idea. We’re not ready to go so far as to try to force it on districts.”

“That’s pretty weak, I think,” Plymale said. “If you’re sitting here telling me that you’re strong on some of these areas, that’s a very weak reply to me.”

Some things in the audit did not have a lot of “meat to the bone,” he said. “We have struggled greatly with professional development…. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen a model that we can embrace. I can also tell you that I am very concerned in giving that totally to the department. That’s why the Department for Education and the Arts and the Center for Professional Development was started, because we didn’t see professional development going on, and it needs to be embedded in the schools.” Plymale noted that whenever legislators are in Charleston, he notices that hotels have many education workshops going on, which take teachers out of their classrooms.

“I see a lot of recommendations that you have here, but I don’t see specifics as to what we need to be doing from the Legislature,” he said, asking for more details.

Linger said, “We wanted to make sure that we were clear on how we think that it should work but not be so bold as for us to say that we demand that the Legislature change the code in this, this and this.”

“Everybody else does,” Plymale quipped.

“We really do want to work with you,” Linger replied. “We are very strong on wanting to push more out to the RESAs and out in the districts where the work actually needs to be done. We come out pretty strong again about reducing the amount of time that causes teachers to do anything but teach. But we did struggle a little bit about how strong we could be without offending someone by demanding that the Legislature do something that we don’t control.”

“Well, I’m personally not offended by having strong statements that say, this is sort of the direction that we think we should go,” Plymale said. “Obviously, we’ve got 134 opinions here.” (The Legislature has 134 members: 100 in the House of Delegates and 34 in the Senate.)

“Let’s be very, very blunt about this. What we’re doing has not worked, and if we don’t make some changes – and this is where I agree with you – if we don’t make changes, we’re not going to be able to provide the workforce for the 21st century. We’re already in the 21st century and we’re behind. We’re going to be recruiting people to fill positions that need technology backgrounds, because we’re not going to be providing those. So we have to do that.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“Let’s be very, very blunt about this,” Plymale said. “What we’re doing has not worked, and if we don’t make some changes – and this is where I agree with you – if we don’t make changes, we’re not going to be able to provide the workforce for the 21st century. We’re already in the 21st century and we’re behind. We’re going to be recruiting people to fill positions that need technology backgrounds, because we’re not going to be providing those. So we have to do that.”

Having data is important, he said. For example, Plymale wants a data system that exposes such problems as having high school graduates not being prepared for college-level math courses.

“I stand to work with you,” he said. “I don’t know that I see it as specific as you do in terms of laying it out priority-wise.”

“Yes, sir,” Linger said. “We’ll take care of that.” He noted that he and another board member were scheduled to get a demonstration on an analytics product that would make available the type of data Plymale wants to have. Plymale said that indicated to him that the board believes the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS) needs to be changed.

 

Call for 56th district leads to questions.

What got the attention of Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, during Linger’s presentation was the comment that the virtual schools program would become like a 56th school district. He wanted to know why.

“We used the term 56th district just as sort of a euphemism to say the virtual schools need to be funded according to the level of demand of how many students need to participate in that program. Right now, basically, there’s a certain level of funding, and we do the best we can with that funding.” – Wade Linger

“We used the term 56th district just as sort of a euphemism to say the virtual schools need to be funded according to the level of demand of how many students need to participate in that program,” Linger said. “Right now, basically, there’s a certain level of funding, and we do the best we can with that funding.” However, he said, the department can serve only so many students. Demand will go through the roof, Linger said, and the board doesn’t want funding for it to be constrained artificially.

Barnes said that his geographically large Senate district in the state’s eastern mountains includes several small school districts. “Do you see this as a potential balancing of advanced coursework for those smaller schools?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s the idea,” Linger responded. “We’re trying to make sure that any course, regardless of how high a level it is, is available no matter how rural the student is.” He said that, in another section of the response, the board discusses the concept of having 55 bureaucracies because there are 55 separate school districts. “Some of these counties are very small,” Linger said, and there is a question of how long West Virginia can afford 55 districts. Barnes agreed that problem must be dealt with.

“We’re also looking for some leadership. You’re asking for some bold moves here, so there’s no point in you being timid in coming to us to say we need to make changes in the code. That’s what we’re all here for.” – Sen. Clark Barnes

“It sounds to me like you’re taking a proactive approach in looking at policies to see whether or not you even need to make a policy on how something is to be done,” he said. “We’re also looking for some leadership. You’re asking for some bold moves here, so there’s no point in you being timid in coming to us to say we need to make changes in the code. That’s what we’re all here for.”

“That’s music to my ears,” Linger replied. “I hope that this is a very positive sign that this board of education is serious and we want to make serious changes, working with you to give the students in the state the opportunities they deserve.”

Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said he didn’t find anything in the board’s response about school nurses, which were a big item in the audit. Linger said the board looked at the recommendation and didn’t believe firing a bunch of nurses would be good for students. He said the board came to the same conclusion about cutting work for cafeteria employees.

Duke said only one sentence in the response addresses student absences, which he said is a big problem. He said students should be required to make up missed time. Linger said the board should bring that up again for discussion. He added that one of the biggest opportunities is to make students feel included and that school is important, which is one reason the board wants more career-technical counseling.

At the end of the subcommittee’s meeting, Tucker, who is co-chairman, said someone from the board should be present at the next meeting in December. Linger indicated he would return.

Later during the Legislature’s interim meetings the last week in November, House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, was asked for his stance on the education audit and the state board’s response. He said he wants to see first what direction the governor wants to take on education reform.

“I want to see what his proposals are and try to help him move those proposals forward,” Thompson said. “He’s very good at working with the leadership in the House and the Senate, and I expect him to continue to do that. So I want to see what he proposes.”

 

Board revisits firing of superintendent.

Just two days after Linger appeared before legislators, the state board held another meeting. Its main purpose was to reconsider the firing of Jorea Marple as superintendent. Many people had charged that the board violated the open meetings law on November 15 when it voted to dismiss Marple without having put the issue well before the meeting. The law requires public bodies to put issues on their published agendas at least two business days before acting on them, except in emergencies. The board faced at least one legal action before the West Virginia Supreme Court and threats of more to overturn the firing of Marple. A public body can resolve a violation of the open meetings law by acting again at a new meeting with the full agenda published in time to meet requirements of the law and the issue at question put up for free and full discussion. That was one purpose of the November 29 meeting.

Also on the agenda was the appointment of a new superintendent and issuance of the oath of office. Shortly after Marple was fired, Linger revealed that he favored appointing Randolph County Superintendent Jim Phares as state superintendent. Phares was not at the November 29 meeting but was reported to be in the area and available to arrive on short notice.

But before the board took up any of those issues, members heard from 20 citizens, including two who already had spoken at the November 21 meeting. Most of them opposed Marple’s firing and some urged the board to reinstate her. Among them was Cleo Mathews, who had served on the state board for eight years, including two terms as president.

“I want to respectfully suggest that this board step back, take a deep breath, work as a group to better understand the school system and reconsider what you’ve done to this board of education. Please. I love this institution, and you’ve squandered its credibility, reputation and constitutional authority.” – Cleo Mathews
Used by permission of the Charleston Daily Mail

“I want to respectfully suggest that this board step back, take a deep breath, work as a group to better understand the school system and reconsider what you’ve done to this board of education,” she said. “Please. I love this institution, and you’ve squandered its credibility, reputation and constitutional authority.”

Another former board member, Delores Cook, also spoke. Other who spoke included: representatives of teachers’ and school service workers’ unions; representative of arts, social studies and foreign language teachers; retired teachers; and parents. (For more on public comments made to the board, see “Marple’s firing stirs plenty of criticism for state board” elsewhere in this issue.) Some of the speakers urged the board not to rush into hiring a new superintendent but instead conduct a nationwide search for one.

After listening to the citizens’ statements, Linger said the board appreciated their comments and moved on with the agenda. When he asked for an executive session to consider the termination of the superintendent, board member Jenny Phillips moved to table the issue until after the legal action before the Supreme Court was decided. Priscilla Haden seconded the motion, but Phillips and Haden were the only members to vote for it. The other six voted to proceed.

When the board decided to go into executive session, many people in the audience expressed their displeasure. Julian Martin, one of the citizens who had spoken to the board earlier, said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Board member William White responded, “Be civil.”

 

Board votes again for Marple’s dismissal.

After the executive session, Linger announced, “As president of the board, it is my position that it is no longer the will of the board to retain Dr. Marple as superintendent. I recommend her termination and replacement.” Board member Mike Green made a motion to that effect, White seconded it, and the board approved it on a six-two vote with Haden and Phillips again in opposition.

Haden said she was very upset. “Dr. Marple is and was an excellent superintendent,” she said, noting that the citizens who spoke to the board called Marple “visionary” and “forward-thinking.”

Although a few board members had said Marple wasn’t moving forward with the audit report, Haden countered that Marple had put forward many changes, including: a balanced calendar, revised evaluations for teacher and supervisors, downsizing (30 positions), making school meals more nutritious, cooking from scratch, civic literacy, support of arts programs, policy updates, promotion of foreign languages, support of the Read Aloud program, project-based learning, and the pre-kindergarten program. She said her vote against Marple’s firing was based on her being an excellent superintendent.

Phillips agreed with Haden. She said that of the 129 recommendations in the audit, 60 were being done or had been done under Marple, another 40 would require code changes, the board didn’t agree with 12 others, and another 17 would require action by the governor, the School Building Authority or someone else. “I believe that she put her best effort into making sure that we were responsive to the audit wherever possible,” Phillips said.

Linger said the board had received many requests from the public for explanation about Marple’s firing. “Providing the reasons for any termination often runs afoul of advice and caution given from counsel,” he said. “Nonetheless, it is our duty to be as open as possible with the public. I believe that most of the board will agree that we need to provide more explanation than we have to date.”

Many people in the audience groaned at Linger’s suggestion that the board was being open about its decision, but he continued.

“Everyone is familiar with the situation we find ourselves in regarding the litany of statistics related to student achievement and our rankings,” he said. “West Virginia students rank below the national average in 21 of 24 categories measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As a matter of fact, over the last decade, many of our NAEP scores have slipped instead of improved. Education Week’s most recent “Quality Counts” report gave West Virginia an F in K-to-12 achievement. The statewide graduation rate is 78 percent. One in four of our high school students in West Virginia do not graduate on time. And these are just a few of our concerns. We read all of these things in the papers. So do our friends and family. And we hear about them in business groups, social groups and education groups. School employees hear about them. Parents hear about them. Students hear about them. They are all as frustrated as we are.

“We are not saying that Supt. Marple is any more responsible than governors, legislators, educators or board members for these shortcomings,” Linger said. “We are not here to affix blame. However, we are charged with the general supervision of schools in West Virginia, and we think the people of West Virginia deserve to have these problems fixed. The board determined that, in order to fix these problems, we need to head in a new direction with new leadership. Some of those issues caused board members to perceive a change was needed.

“Many members found no sense of urgency within the department to address some of the issues that have been outlined. When discussing concerns, we were often met with excuses and not action. Too often, we were told how things can’t change instead of being offered solutions. When current practices were challenged, we often found that people were defensive. Considering everything just outlined in this statement, I believe we needed a change in direction, and in order to do that, we needed a change in leadership.” – Wade Linger

“Many members found no sense of urgency within the department to address some of the issues that have been outlined,” Linger said. “When discussing concerns, we were often met with excuses and not action. Too often, we were told how things can’t change instead of being offered solutions. When current practices were challenged, we often found that people were defensive. Considering everything just outlined in this statement, I believe we needed a change in direction, and in order to do that, we needed a change in leadership. So I hope for everyone who says, nobody told us why, I have now told you some of the reasons why.”

But one woman in the audience said, “You told us nothing.” Nevertheless, the board adopted Linger’s statement as the board’s position. Once again, it was a six-two vote with Haden and Phillips on the losing side.

Haden said that some of the issues just mentioned by Linger had been discussed in the November 15 executive session that preceded the board’s first vote to fire Marple, but board attorney Heather Deskins advised her to say no more about what members discussed in executive session.

The board then went into another executive session to discuss the issue of hiring a new superintendent. When members returned to public session, Linger said they made no decisions in executive session.

“I think that one of the primary things that we heard today from the many people who spoke was the importance that, if we did decide to move along to another superintendent, that we do a serious nationwide search,” he said. “And after hearing all those comments, I think I want to recommend to the board that we definitely do not act now. Realizing that, in order to do a serious nationwide search, there are probably some statutory changes that need to be made relating to the current qualifications for the position of state superintendent of schools.”

Linger recommended revisiting the subject in December and then said, “I think we’re looking at a longer time period than we want to go without a serious leader in the seat.”

The board voted unanimously for Chuck Heinlein to continue to serve as superintendent until further notice. Because the position of superintendent cannot be vacant and there is no provision for an interim, the board had promoted Heinlein from a deputy superintendent’s position shortly after first firing Marple on November 15.

At the end of the meeting, Linger made another statement about the situation.

“If I’ve made any mistakes over the past couple of weeks, I apologize to the people of West Virginia. It was always my intent to do the best I could for the students of West Virginia.” – Wade Linger

“I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the past couple of weeks,” he said. “I’m just a businessman who was asked to serve on the state board. I can now see why a lot of people don’t want to serve in state government. I approached this matter as a lot of businessmen would, and I have now learned that you cannot always do that in the public sector. Despite the difficulty of the decisions, I believe this is the right thing to do. If I’ve made any mistakes over the past couple of weeks, I apologize to the people of West Virginia. It was always my intent to do the best I could for the students of West Virginia.”

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, December 12, in Lincoln County. If the agenda is not completed then, the meeting will resume the following day in Charleston. However, before that, legislators on Education Subcommittee B are scheduled to again take up the education audit with testimony from representatives of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and West Virginia School Service Personnel Association. Representatives of the West Virginia School Board Association and the West Virginia Association of School Administrators are scheduled to give their views on the audit at the subcommittee’s January meeting.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

When the West Virginia Board of Education voted November 15 to fire Superintendent Jorea Marple, the decision came as a surprise, and members of the public did not have a chance to comment on it. However, board President Wade Linger and other board members heard plenty of comments about that decision at their next two meetings.

At the November 21 board meeting, the main topic was the board’s response to the education efficiency audit, but two citizens took the opportunity to express their opinions about Marple’s dismissal.

Karan Ireland, mother of a son and daughter in public schools, said she supported Marple and was shocked when she heard the board had voted to terminate her employment. “I was disgusted to learn the specifics of how the vote happened,” she said. “I’m here to demand a specific reason for the termination, to ask for concrete details about the new direction in which the board intends to steer the West Virginia school system and learn more about why the board was prepared to use a radically different selection process in the hiring of Dr. Marple’s replacement than it did when former Supt. [Steve] Payne retired.”

Ireland also urged Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips to stay on the board rather than resign, as they said they would do after the majority of the board voted to terminate Marple. “Clearly, your presence is needed now more than ever,” she told them.

“‘Dr. Marple approaches all of her work with an unwavering commitment to students and educators. She is an outstanding visionary and works diligently regarding teacher pay, school nutrition, pre-K education and organizational leadership,’ Ireland said. “I’d like to take credit for that glowing commendation, but those are not my words. They’re yours, Mr. Linger. You used those words to describe Dr. Marple fewer than four months ago at about the same time when the board awarded her with a $2,000 per year salary increase. So why the sudden change?”

The public deserves to know what led to the sudden turnabout, she said, adding that she was thrilled to see Marple’s support for the arts, dedication to foreign language education and healthier meals.

“Simply put: The loss of Dr. Marple’s leadership is a loss borne by the children of West Virginia.” – Karan Ireland

“Simply put: The loss of Dr. Marple’s leadership is a loss borne by the children of West Virginia,” Ireland said. Equally egregious was the way the board acted, she said. She hoped for an outpouring of support for Marple that would get the board to reverse its decision.

Ireland noted that the second goal of the board’s Global 21 program calls on students to develop the personal skills and dispositions of wellness, responsibility, cultural awareness, self-direction, ethical character and good citizenship. “The events of the past week indicate to me that some of the members of this board have yet to master those traits themselves,” she said, but she added that it’s never too late to make amends.

Susan Latimer Adkins, a lifetime educator and wife of a retired superintendent from Wayne County, said, “I am so disheartened by the actions of this board last meeting that I felt compelled to come.” She said the most important thing the board does is to select the state superintendent. She added that she wants Haden and Phillips to remain on the board.

“This board flagrantly didn’t follow policies and procedures or laws last week in my opinion,” Adkins said. “I’m not an attorney. But even more important than that is why the process wasn’t followed.” She said she expected more from state school board members.

“I strongly feel that Dr. Marple was the change education needed to see in West Virginia.” – Susan Latimer Adkins

“I strongly feel that Dr. Marple was the change education needed to see in West Virginia,” she said, urging board members to reconsider their decision.

“I’m excited about this audit report,” Adkins said. “I think there are a lot of good things in it. I don’t agree with everything in it.” She said she was looking forward to working hard to help get recommendations from the audit implemented, but said she needs confidence in the board.

 

More people speak at subsequent meeting.

At the November 29 meeting to reconsider Marple’s termination, the board heard comments from 20 citizens.  Among them were Ireland and Adkins, who made repeat appearances. Many people were upset not only that the board had fired Marple but also that the board might hire Randolph County Superintendent Jim Phares, who formerly served as superintendent in Marion County, before the meeting was over. Linger had previously indicated he favored hiring Phares.

Sandra Shaw, a visual arts teacher for 32 years and president of the West Virginia Art Educators Association, said her organization deeply regretted  the loss of Marple. “In our minds, she’s a true champion for the students of West Virginia,” she said. “In fact, our organization presented her one of our highest awards last year, the WVAEA Distinguished Service outside the Profession [award].”

Shaw quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – to explain why she was speaking to the board. She said arts teach children many valuable lessons.

“We finally had our champion: someone who not only professed to support arts education but who was taking tangible steps to implement the changes necessary to have complete, comprehensive art programs in all schools for all students. We feel the action taken by the board to terminate Dr. Marple is regrettable.” – Sandra Shaw

“We finally had our champion: someone who not only professed to support arts education but who was taking tangible steps to implement the changes necessary to have complete, comprehensive art programs in all schools for all students,” Shaw said. “We feel the action taken by the board to terminate Dr. Marple is regrettable. However, our hope is that the board and the new superintendent pick up the mantle by continuing to build the arts education. The future of our children and our state depends on it.”

Karan Ireland said she had been full of anger and outrage when she appeared before the board the previous week. “I hope the legal system will remedy the egregious actions of Dr. Marple’s termination, but I’m deeply saddened as a parent that we have lost someone who is a visionary,” she said.

Ireland reread the words Linger used to praise Marple during her job review in July. She said the board must have “some specific reason” for terminating Marple’s employment and encouraged the board to share that reason.

Michelle Legg, dance director at Capitol High School in Charleston and representative of a consortium of dance educators in West Virginia, the newly organized Dance Educators Organization, said her group was “tremendously disturbed” by the action of November 15.

“Dr. Marple listened,” Legg said. “She listened to teachers, to children, to coordinators of programs all over the state. She visited parts of the state that had not been visited before. She wanted to hear the voices of the teachers that were in the trenches every single day. Dr. Marple’s vision is intrinsically student-centered, focusing on educating the whole student. She holds the arts, foreign language and health and wellness as major priorities. Upon becoming superintendent, she funded an elementary dance program in West Virginia schools that was a vital step in moving dance and dance education forward in our state.”

Legg said she helped develop the curriculum for that program around the idea that artists would work collaboratively with classroom teachers to develop lessons that focus on areas of weakness within a teacher’s specific classroom. “It was not a frivolous program where the students just came in and did some dancing,” she said. “It was content-based, integrated arts education. Additionally, Dr. Marple encouraged dancing within the state higher education so that a dance education major could be developed and our dance students did not have to leave this state in order to get that degree. Dr. Marple understands the power of arts and arts integration to aid students in acquiring the ability to more deeply understand concepts in all academic disciplines. These skills and concepts allow students to become better at problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, which are the very skills needed for college and career readiness. Dr. Marple truly believes in preparing our students to be productive, conscientious, well-rounded citizens of the 21st century.”

Referring to an opinion piece written by Linger that was published in the Charleston Gazette that said public education had reached tipping point at which change must occur, Legg read Linger’s words: “We do not believe that West Virginia students are destined to low performance and failure. Instead, we as a board want to support an optimistic environment where our students, teachers and principals set lofty goals and achieve high expectations. Our work pivots away from why we can’t to focus on how we can achieve.” Legg said, “I was gratified to hear those words, and Dr. Marple was moving in exactly that direction.”

“Our call is for an apology and a reinstatement of Dr. Marple so that she may continue her amazing work in your full support, and if not, we would like a real, legitimate, authentic and reasonable explanation for why she was dismissed in such an immediate and demeaning manner.” – Michelle Legg

Education is not a big business but a safe haven, she said. “We believe the board of education has done an injustice to every student in West Virginia and that West Virginia education is taking a step backward with her dismissal,” Legg said. “Our call is for an apology and a reinstatement of Dr. Marple so that she may continue her amazing work in your full support, and if not, we would like a real, legitimate, authentic and reasonable explanation for why she was dismissed in such an immediate and demeaning manner.”

 

WVEA leader admonishes board.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he understood that Marple was a will-and-pleasure employee of the board, so the board could terminate her at any time. The right to dismiss her was not the issue but the “motive and underhandedness” behind it were.

“The way people handle situations tells a lot about them. The way this board dealt with the dismissal of Dr. Marple speaks volumes about board members as a group and as individuals. The unlawful, unjust and despicable way the board handled her termination is now the legacy of this board.”

Applause from the audience interrupted Lee.

“Let’s review what has been released so far,” he said. “Some of you clearly had discussions about Marple’s dismissal outside of the board meeting format. These discussions were limited to a few board members and most likely were held illegally. You were told by counsel during the board of education meeting that you were in violation of the open meetings law, and each of the five chose to violate the law rather than proceed correctly. You either didn’t care about the law or you believed that you were above it. The only reason that you’re correcting your error now is the possibility of lawsuits in which you’re clearly going to be on the losing side.

“In addition to having discussions among a select few about the termination, it appears to the public that you’ve already chosen a successor and that you have had those discussions with him weeks before the vote to dismiss Marple,” Lee said. “By the way, he just happens to be from Marion County, and some board members just happen to have had a prior relationship with him. To the public, this certainly does not look like an attempt to hire the most qualified person but simply a typical West Virginia good-old-boy arrangement. The majority of the board demanded a national search be conducted when the last vacancy occurred. These people now are not willing to even post the job and allow qualified applicants to apply. To an outside observer, this says a deal has been cut and you aren’t really looking for the most qualified applicant. You’re simply looking for someone who’ll do exactly what you say without question.”

Again, applause interrupted Lee.

“The only reason you can give for the dismissal of Dr. Marple was that you are looking to go in another direction,” he said. “Mrs. Manchin has admitted that Dr. Marple has already implemented or is in the process of implementing many of the recommendations from the audit. Add to that, just a few months ago, she received a good evaluation and salary increase from the board. So tell me what changed.

“Schools aren’t businesses and kids aren’t made in factories. Dr. Marple understood that. She was a teacher and an administrator. She has turned around low-performing schools and written books on the systematic change in our schools. She is a nationally recognized educator with tons of classroom and real life experience in our public schools. Can any of you make the same claim?” – WVEA President Dale Lee

“I understand that each of you have had success in life and because of that, you believe that you have the answers on how to fix our public schools,” Lee said. “Armed with your knowledge and a copy of the audit recommendations, you’re now set to go forth in the world and change the world. Ah, if it were only that easy. Schools aren’t businesses and kids aren’t made in factories. Dr. Marple understood that. She was a teacher and an administrator. She has turned around low-performing schools and written books on the systematic change in our schools. She is a nationally recognized educator with tons of classroom and real life experience in our public schools. Can any of you make the same claim?

“I’ve read where some of you say she was resistant to making changes,” he said. “Just from my dealings with Dr. Marple, nothing could be further from the truth. She embraced change and implemented change in our schools. But unlike many who have never been in the classroom, she understood that change simply for the sake of change does not improve student achievement. Dr. Marple’s vision and direction for the department were to improve student learning and allow teachers to teach. Based on that, your decision to head in another direction is puzzling.

“Today’s board meeting is really irrelevant in the conversation,” Lee said. “This is not about Dr. Marple coming back but where do we go from here. Make no mistake: WVEA is willing to work with this board, as we always have, as we go forward with the goal of improving our schools. Public and employee trust is paramount to creating a world-class school system. You can begin to recapture some of the trust by at least taking applications for the position of our next superintendent of schools. Appointing someone only keeps the question surrounding the motives of the board’s actions in the forefront of any discussion on public education. Let us have the most-qualified applicant to lead our schools just as we did when Dr. Marple was chosen. Once that happens, maybe public education becomes the issue and not the motives and the actions of this board of education.”

 

Former board members criticizes current members.

Cleo Mathews, a former state board member for eight years, including twice serving as president, told the board, “I’m here today because I care. I care about the students in the West Virginia public school system. I care about the school system. And I also care about this institution, the West Virginia Board of Education.

“Improving the West Virginia school system is indeed a laudable goal,” she said. “We all want that to happen. You are fortunate as a board, because you have a roadmap. You have to be your guidepost. But our public school system is a complex system with many stakeholders, and each group of stakeholders has its own culture, and somehow all those cultures will lead to an overriding culture. Bringing about change in such a complex entity is very challenging. It’s difficult. It’s like trying to bring peace to the Middle East. You have to realize that as you go forward. This is not easy. Unfortunately, we just can’t agree that we want change, and we want improvement. We have to bring all the stakeholders along, and first and foremost, the students.

“Many of our students are well motivated, and they want a rigorous curriculum so that they have the tools to succeed in life in a turbulent, changing world,” Mathews said. “A job exists one day; the next day, it’s gone. Then you have about 20 to 25 percent – and I don’t know how to describe this – that may be at risk, and they aren’t interested in achieving at an acceptable level – leave me alone. So how do you bring them along? Then there are parents on both ends of the spectrum. You have the parents that are really out there pushing, wanting you to improve the curriculum and improve the school system, because they have high demands for their children. They want them to go to Yale, Princeton, and you’re supposed to provide them with the right background. Then there are parents that couldn’t care less – leave my child alone; my child’s fine.

“So as we look then, we have the teachers and principals, and they are the stakeholders that are absolutely going to make it happen, if it happens,” she said. “They are your boots on the ground. And so you have to get buy-in from those folks, too. The state Department of education has a very important role. They work with the teachers and principals, giving them the support and help they need to make it happen. They are a group of highly professional people very well versed in their curricular areas, and they’re talented. Then there’s the superintendent. The superintendent is supposed to take policy direction from the board and work with the department to implement what the board wants done. And then, don’t forget the general public. They’re out there depending on us to provide them with the workforce to keep the economy going and growing.

“I want to respectfully suggest that this board step back, take a deep breath, work as a group to better understand the school system and reconsider what you’ve done to this board of education. Please. I love this institution, and you’ve squandered its credibility, reputation and constitutional authority.” – Cleo Mathews
Used by permission of the Charleston Daily Mail

“So you have all these moving parts, as I call them, and change is difficult,” Mathews said. “And the process is important, because if you don’t pay attention to the process, you’re not going to get the best possible outcome. I want to respectfully suggest that this board step back, take a deep breath, work as a group to better understand the school system and reconsider what you’ve done to this board of education. Please. I love this institution, and you’ve squandered its credibility, reputation and constitutional authority.”

 

AFT leader expresses outrage.

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said, “I have to tell you that I am somewhat disappointed in the members of the board who are not here. I’ve been around a long time. One of the most important decisions that has been made by this board obviously is very, very controversial. And I know that there are times when people cannot attend, but to have four board members who cannot get to Charleston on this day, I find quite frankly unacceptable. I think they should have been here.” (Board members Gayle Manchin, Jenny Phillips, Bob Dunlevy and Mike Green participated in the meeting by phone.)

“So I want to begin by saying Dr. Marple dedicated her entire professional life to the children of West Virginia without question aside from politics,” Hale said. “I’ve worked in education as long as she has probably, and I can remember the school [Tiskelwah Elementary in Charleston] that she brought from on the bottom to the top. She didn’t do that for political reasons. She did that because, number one, she knew how to do it. So she has a long and distinguished career. I don’t have to tell any of you that. And she did amazing things in the short amount of time that she was given as the state superintendent of schools.

“You know, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do something. If you had set out to say, OK, I’m going to cause the most chaos and do this in the worst way possible, I think that is what you accomplished.”  --AFT-WV President Judy Hale

“Now, I can be outraged, as I am, over the manner in which this was done,” she said. “Mr. Linger, I read in the paper that you do this in the private sector all the time. This is not the private sector. (applause) We answer to the taxpayers, because it’s their money that we spend, and by ‘we’ I mean the education community as a whole. And so, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. And you as a state board have to hold yourselves to higher standards, because you answer to the public, and the manner in which this was done was absolutely outrageous. It was hurtful. You know, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do something. If you had set out to say, OK, I’m going to cause the most chaos and do this in the worst way possible, I think that is what you accomplished.”

Many people in the audience applauded at that remark, and at least one person said, “Amen.”

“What I want to say is the board has lost a great deal of credibility with the public, and in the public sector, that’s extremely important,” Hale said. “So you have to begin as a state board, I believe, and I ask you, to begin to build that credibility and that trust to figure out how you can move forward. And we at AFT, of course, are certainly willing to move forward with you, because we all work for the children. But you’ve got to begin to build some credibility with the public.

“You know, I heard the comment that you were going to determine what an effective teacher was,” she said. “Well we’ve been doing that for two years now. We have an excellent document that is objective, that is fair, that talks about what’s distinguished and what isn’t, the teachers that should be in the classroom and the ones that shouldn’t. Dr. Marple has overseen that process along with [Assistant Supt.] Amelia Courts in the last two years. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here. There is some excellent work that has been done that we need to build on.

“Now I’d be the first to say we need changes in education,” Hale said. “I read the research. I know what the data says. I know where our students are in terms of the rest of the country, in terms of the rest of the world. So I don’t object to change. I don’t find change painful actually, but I think that what you did was not respectful, not in the public’s interest and certainly lost a great deal of credibility in terms of the public.”

Hale ended her comments by saying the AFT is willing to work with the board. 

 

Music teacher laments Marple’s dismissal.

Phil Wyatt, a member of the West Virginia Music Educators Association and the West Virginia Coalition for Arts Education, said, “On behalf of music educators, we’d like to thank Dr. Marple and the board, of course, for continued support of music education over the past year and emphasis on a well-rounded education including rigorous arts.”

Saying that strong music programs help children succeed, he added, “We would like to commend Dr. Marple for her vision and leadership. We are, however, concerned about views expressed on the need for change and how that change will affect the arts and West Virginia’s students. West Virginia is currently on the cutting edge in terms of education reform and in the way it recognizes the arts as core in the curriculum. Our students cannot afford to take a step backwards in arts education. We applaud you and we applaud Dr. Marple for the work that has been done for arts education, and we urge you to continue along the same lines that we’ve already begun. We’re on the right track for West Virginia students.”

Robert Baker, chairman of the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, said, “I’m here on behalf of friends and neighbors both inside and outside the school system who are very angry about the actions taken by the board.” He then read a statement about Marple’s support for foreign language, health and wellness, and the arts. Baker said she was taking suggestions from the audit seriously.

“She is the education expert that this board needs to put forward to the Legislature to tell them what needs to be done legislatively in this state,” he said. “She needs more time to implement changes that are necessary to improve our system, and there definitely are changes necessary to our system.”

“You were advised by counsel prior to taking a vote two weeks ago that you were violating the open meetings act. You chose to go ahead, which made your action of violating the open meetings act knowingly done. Such a violation is a criminal misdemeanor under our statutes. I’m hoping that you had good advice about your Fifth Amendment rights, because those rights could well come into play in this, because very likely the Gang of Five will be charged with criminal misdemeanor and will have that on their permanent record, so to speak.” – Robert Baker

Baker said procedural issues are very important to him. “On the procedural side, the Gang of Five [a reference to Linger, Manchin, William White, Dunlevy and Green – the board members who voted to dismiss Marple on November 15] as I like to call them, essentially and knowingly violated the open meetings act. You were advised by counsel prior to taking a vote two weeks ago that you were violating the open meetings act. You chose to go ahead, which made your action of violating the open meetings act knowingly done. Such a violation is a criminal misdemeanor under our statutes. I’m hoping that you had good advice about your Fifth Amendment rights, because those rights could well come into play in this, because very likely the Gang of Five will be charged with criminal misdemeanor and will have that on their permanent record, so to speak.

“I was involved with a situation 30 years ago in Raleigh County, where all five members of the board of education were initially convicted of a criminal misdemeanor for violation of statute,” he said. “I wasn’t the prosecutor in that case. I was representing on the civil side the same people who brought those charges on the criminal side. Those board members were initially convicted in magistrate court and chose to appeal with a jury trial in circuit court. They won that trial because of a technicality, but on the civil side of matters, the same judge on exactly the same issues ruled the other way and overturned the court’s decision made at that time.

“Now it’s clear to me that there’s been a substantial violation of the open meetings act, because when you don’t put something on the agenda and deal with it, you’ve essentially shut the door on all the people who wanted to come talk about that issue, and you’re seeing that you shut the door on a lot of people here today,” Baker said. “Now then, in my professional opinion, the only way that you can cure that open meetings act violation – and I don’t believe that’s necessarily true on the criminal side – but on the civil side, the only way that you can cure it is by reinstating Ms. Marple to her former position with full back pay. Just reconsidering your decision, which is on the agenda for today, is not sufficient. You can’t reconsider an illegal act and thereby make it legal. It would be a huge mistake to hire somebody in the meantime while the civil suit is going through the court, because imagine the mess and confusion that will be faced when that person is forced back out of that position to make the way for Ms. Marple to be superintendent.”

 

Foreign language teachers supported Marple.

“In the short time Dr. Marple was our superintendent, she elevated, supported and valued the work of foreign language educators and the accomplishments of our students more than any other. She recognized what we know is inherent in our program.” – Jenny Santilli

Jenny Santilli, president of the West Virginia Foreign Language Teachers Association, said, “While it’s your right to hire and fire at will, we are shocked at Dr. Marple’s abrupt termination and the manner in which it was conducted. If your action is because of philosophical differences and not politics, then I ask you to keep an open mind in reconsidering Dr. Marple’s termination. In the short time Dr. Marple was our superintendent, she elevated, supported and valued the work of foreign language educators and the accomplishments of our students more than any other. She recognized what we know is inherent in our program. World language acquisition is in a unique position of supporting all three of this board’s strategic goals for West Virginia’s children.

“You envision students with increased academic achievements, standardized test scores, Global 21 skills and global literacy,” she said. “With the help of Dr. Marple and her staff, we are empowered to deliver. In fact, her support and help for us was recognized recently at a national convention this month. Dr. Marple is a visionary who understands for children to be productive, responsible citizens in this great state and beyond, they must be healthy, active and exposed to the fine arts and world language.

“How did Dr. Marple develop this philosophy?” Santilli asked. “Not through traditional research. She traveled throughout the state and listened. She listened to community and social organizations, to businesses, to educators, to parents and to students. She spoke at our annual World Language Conference last year and then stayed to listen to educators from across the state from elementary to secondary to post-secondary levels. She spent time with students at the Spanish immersion camp at Cedar Lakes this summer. She supports our Chinese guest teacher program, which will add three more host schools next year. She understands the importance of our youngest students acquiring world language skills and furthering our efforts to offer world language programs. Dr. Marple is innovative when asked at state meetings how world languages and fine arts are incorporated with core subjects.”

Santilli also praised Marple for her work on a pilot project for a new teacher evaluation program.

“We ask you to reinstate Dr. Marple as our superintendent and allow her to finish what she started,” she said. “However, if you won’t, have the honor to conduct a national search for a new superintendent. Naming a successor within hours of a termination does not inspire confidence for those whom you’ve chosen to serve. A national search is the right thing to do, because our students and their families deserve what’s best not what’s expedient.”

Then with an aside to the two board members who opposed Marple’s firing, Santilli said, Mrs. Phillips and Mrs. Haden, we admire your support for Dr. Marple, but please reconsider your decisions to resign. We need you.”

If Marple is not superintendent, choose someone like her, she said. “But this isn’t really about saving Dr. Marple’s job,” Santilli said. “This is high stakes. It’s about what’s going right for the children of the great state of West Virginia. As you move forward, please put aside your personal feelings and agendas. Put our children first.”

 

Retired teachers favor Marple.

Judy Robinson, a former teacher for more than 30 years in Raleigh County, began her testimony by noting that Linger had asked those who wanted to comment not to be repetitive, but she said repetition is important in teaching.

“The board this morning needs to vote to reinstate Dr. Marple,” she said. “That’s a backdoor way out.”

Asking the board to say sorry to citizens, Robinson said, “And during this holiday season, during which we celebrate birth and renewal, it would be fitting for the board to make reparations for the egregious error it made in firing Dr. Marple for no cause except the interests of cronyism and political backroom conspiracy. Vote to reinstate Dr. Marple this morning. Begin to repair the profound insult your action has visited upon our state. Vote to reinstate Dr. Marple. Your despicable action has made West Virginia once again the butt of regional jokes.”

Robinson concluded by saying Marple represents the best of West Virginia.

Elizabeth Mow, a retired teacher from Upshur County and member of the executive board of West Virginia Professional Educators, said, “There is no apparent reason for the firing of Dr. Marple since she was recently given a good recommendation and a $2,000 raise. Media reports have indicated that Dr. Marple already was in the process of implementing recommendations made by the education audit, so that can hardly be an excuse for her abrupt dismissal. The only conclusion the public can draw is that this was a political decision made behind closed doors. Your motive is unclear, but it certainly isn’t in the best interests of the children of this state.

“In my opinion, Dr. Marple was the best superintendent we’ve had since Dan Taylor in the 1960s,” she said. “That shows my age. You have deeply damaged the reputation of this body. How is the public to trust your judgment in the future? You must be aware of the public outcry obviously against this decision. I urge you to really reconsider this irresponsible decision, to apologize to Dr. Marple and to reinstate her as the state superintendent of schools. If you do so, it would be a small step towards reestablishing the integrity of West Virginia education.”

 

Leaders want members’ interests to be acknowledged.

Jackie Long, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, began by saying she agreed with what the others already had said. “When you’re deliberating about new leadership of this Department of Education, I hope you’ll keep in mind the contributions of service personnel made to our education system,” she said. “It does sadden me that every time someone mentions the workforce it’s about teachers and principals. Well, there are a lot more people in this education system than teachers and principals.”

Long concluded by saying, “No one wants to do this, but service personnel could be the first people to shut the system down in a heartbeat.”

“I speak before you today disheartened, disappointed and disillusioned, much as I was when I first heard of the firing.” – John Quesenberry

John Quesenberry, a social studies teacher from Raleigh County and member of the WVEA executive committee, said, “I speak before you today disheartened, disappointed and disillusioned, much as I was when I first heard of the firing.”

Marple valued teachers like him, he said, adding that she was an innovator and praising her for revising disciplinary policy.

“I’m from the neglected stepchild in the core curriculum: social studies,” Quesenberry said. “All we hear nationally is STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. All we hear statewide is we got to get the language arts and math up. That’s what will get us to meet AYP [adequate yearly progress]. But Dr. Marple believes in a well-rounded education. Is the new direction the board wants rejecting a balanced, well-rounded education focused on authentic student learning rather than teaching for tests?”

Quesenberry concluded by urging the board to reinstate Marple.

Christine Campbell, president-elect of AFT-WV, said, “We have got to move forward in a way that makes sense for education in West Virginia. We have to pay attention to stakeholders. Dr. Marple brought those stakeholders to the table. She used multiple measures to form her plan of action. You as a board need to learn from your mistakes and move forward to form those plans of action that are based on real evidence.”

“If this is your idea of the hiring and firing practices that you want to see in West Virginia, we’re in big trouble.” – Christine Campbell of AFT-WV

Campbell concluded by saying, “If this is your idea of the hiring and firing practices that you want to see in West Virginia, we’re in big trouble.”

Kristopher Corbett, director of theater at Capitol High School in Charleston and representative of the West Virginia Thespian Organization, said, “The removal of Dr. Marple as the state superintendent is a travesty and has darkened the education system of our great state. An educational vision and philosophy that included a complete arts-oriented education, including music, dance, theater and visual arts – that is a complete arts education. That education with her termination will now be compromised.”

Corbett said arts were a priority for Marple, who listened to students and teachers. He pleaded for her reinstatement. 

Susan Latimer Adkins, in her return appears before the board, said she had received many phone calls, emails and visits from people since she spoke at the November 21 meeting. “You have a huge public relations problem right now,” she said. “I’m truly not trying to be funny. I’m very serious.”

Saying the board should reinstate Marple, Adkins concluded, “You have the best. Why on earth would you want anything less for us?”

 

Activist charges political motives.

Julian Martin, a retired teacher and environmental activist from Lincoln County, said, “I think this is [U.S. Sen.] Joe Manchin’s revenge against [Attorney General] Darrell McGraw [Marple’s husband, who lost his bid for re-election in November]. None of the Democrats in name only like Darrell McGraw, because he is a real Democrat, and his wife is, too. So now, Joe Manchin has made both members of that family unemployed.

“This is a dog-and-pony show we’re having here today,” Martin said. “This is ridiculous. I mean this is as bad as what it was like in Lincoln County. I have been to so many of these things in Lincoln County that I can’t count them on one set of fingers. I thought you all were above it, but you’re not. It’s just exactly like that. I am absolutely amazed that the quality is not getting better as it moves up. Here’s what I want you to do today: So far, I haven’t heard anyone say why she was fired, and I want each one of you before you vote to tell me, one of your employers, why you’re going to vote the way you’re going to vote. I don’t want a secret vote held in public. Your vote being secret in public is just as bad as being secret behind closed doors.”

Michelle Pine Damp, mother of 17-year-old daughter, said that the West Virginia School for Blind and Deaf is not up to standards. She said she earns less than $1,400 a month, so struggles to make ends meet. Her disabled daughter quit school at age 15 because she was sexually harassed at the back of a bus, according to Damp.

“You tell me how firing Dr. Marple is educating anybody in this state,” she said. “There is something wrong with this picture and something wrong with all of you.”

Carolyn Arritt, a retired teacher and former Fayette County board member, said she was not there to speak for or against Marple. “I definitely feel the Department of Education has been heading in the wrong direction for several years,” she said, adding that no other state insulates its education department so much from voter control.

Arritt said she believes the state board has no constitutional right to take over a county school board. “Once the state takes control of a county, the administrators become dictators, and the citizens have no rights, including having questions answered,” she said. Arritt concluded by saying state takeovers leave districts in worse condition.

Former board member

Cook concluded by saying, “Please do the right thing. We are only here for a while. Remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”Delores Cook, a former state board member, said she heard the news about Marple’s firing while returning from the cemetery to visit her late husband’s grave. “This was not the way that we operated the state board of education when I was a member of it,” she said. “We tried to do everything up front. We didn’t always agree on everything, but we worked it out. And one other thing I would like to say: I’m scared to death of that audit. The people who prepared that audit – were they educators? I taught for 30 years. I know what it’s like to be in the classroom teaching children as well as many others in this room. Beware of some of the things that’s in that audit. All students do not learn alike. They don’t all have the same brain. You have to work with them differently.”

 

 

By Jim Wallace

One of the issues for legislators, state Department of Education officials and the state school board, as they consider how to reform West Virginia’s public education system, is that the department is top-heavy and imposes too many policies on county school districts. In the past year, the state board has removed dozens of policies.

At the November meeting of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability, Robert Hull, associate superintendent in the Division of Teaching and Learning, told legislators about a few more policies the board has agreed to change. He began by saying there were more than 160 policies a year and a half ago, and the board has reduced the number to 129 with plans to look at other policies in the next few months.

Hull said the board did not repeal Policy 2445.40 but changed it. That policy deals with the order in which instructional materials are released. He said West Virginia is a “state-adoption state,” meaning the state requires that all publishers come before a committee that selects the materials from which districts can choose.

“With the adoption of the Common Core state standards, we need to make sure we have current materials in the classrooms.” – Robert Hull

“With the adoption of the Common Core state standards, we need to make sure we have current materials in the classrooms,” Hull said. This coming year, the state was slated to adopt new science instructional materials. However, new Common Core science standards will not be available until January. Therefore, Hull said, the publishers would not have had an opportunity to prepare materials aligned to the standards until those standards are available. So the department surveyed the publishing houses and found out they were ready with materials for English/language arts, which was scheduled to be revised next year in West Virginia. Thus, the change in the policy just reverses the order, he said.

The next three policies he discussed – it 2324, 2700.56 and 5110.1 – all have been repealed. Policy 2324 required each high school to have a system for voter registration for students, Hull said, but state code now makes that the responsibility of county commissioners. Policy 2700.56 was for competitive grants for instructional improvement, he said, but it is covered by another policy. Policy 5110.1 required high schools to offer economics for a half credit, but economics is included throughout all social studies courses now, he said.

Hull said the board has taken another policy and turned it into three policies – 2520.16, 2520.161 and 2520.162 – dealing with academic achievement standards for science, English/language arts and mathematics, respectively, because the different subjects need to have different standards. He also said the school system must give alternate assessments to students who are severely handicapped, about 1 percent of all students, and the new policies establish those Extended Learning Standards.

Another policy, 7124 on guidelines for articulation agreements between secondary/adult schools and postsecondary colleges, has been replaced by a new law, Hull said.

 

Legislative leader wants West Virginia to use home-grown standards.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he had heard complaints from a math teacher that not enough high school math teachers have been involved in developing math standards. “They're not happy with the standards – let's put it that way – that have been discussed so far.”

Hull said a group of 85 to 90 people worked on the standards, and they included math teachers from across the state. But Plymale said he had heard other complaints about the standards.

“We do not do national standards, and I would be very much against having national standards, because we at the state are responsible for what's happening in West Virginia.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“I disagree with the statement made earlier that these are national standards,” he said. “We do not do national standards, and I would be very much against having national standards, because we at the state are responsible for what's happening in West Virginia.”

Plymale said he wanted Hull to explain the process at the December meeting of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Hull said, “We are very careful not to reference anything in terms of having national standards, because these are common standards that the states have worked on.... In West Virginia, the decision was made that, as soon as they were released, those were taken and transferred into a West Virginia framework. Each state has the option to make up to 15 percent change into those standards, to add or subtract or whatever.”

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, asked if any algebra is still taught in the eighth grade. Hull responded that schools begin teaching algebraic concepts in kindergarten, but most algebra comes in the eighth grade. He said the Common Core is not broken into courses, and each state organizes the content as it sees fit. West Virginia has Math I, II and III, and then students can take specialty courses.

Plymale said that's where the complaints have been. He said West Virginia is one of few states that have not abused the process by claiming too many students have disabilities that exclude them from regular tests. West Virginia is being judged against states that exclude more students, he said.

Hull said West Virginia has followed the rules to the letter.

Plymale said, “If NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] does not enforce this uniformly from a national standpoint, we are an outlier abiding by the law.”

 

 

By Jim Wallace

More than 200 students in West Virginia’s secondary schools suffered concussions during the fall sports season, and the number is likely to go higher.

Gary Ray, executive director of the Secondary School Activities Commission, told members of Education Subcommittee A at their November meeting that the SSAC has been collecting data specifically for concussions this school year, and the data are still coming in.  He said the commission also is encouraging the employment of certified athletic trainers at all member schools and has required high school football programs to have athletic trainers.

The SSAC plans to share the results with the National Federation of State High School Associations, which comes up with rules for the sports, and with the commission’s own sports medicine committee, which is made up of doctors and athletic trainers. “We're pleased that we will be able to share what we've collected,” Ray said. This is the first year the SSAC has had an intense collection procedure for injuries with a focus on concussions, he said.

By late November, Ray said, schools had reported about 200 concussions in football. “This sounds high,” he said, but there also is more awareness of concussions than in the past. “We feel we're heading in the correct direction with this.”

In other sports, there were 12 concussions in girls’ soccer, seven in boys’ soccer, four in cheerleading and two in volleyball. Ray said there were 5,425 participants in high school football, 1,639 in girls’ soccer, 1,807 in boys’ soccer, 2,023 in cheerleading and 2,230 in volleyball. “That’s a lot of young people participating in activities,” he said.

The SSAC is working on a form to tell how many students suffered concussions and did not return to play, which Ray said is important to have.

“We need to give some consideration to certified athletic trainers in our schools. I know that's a big-ticket item. Don't get me wrong. I've been in education for 42 years now, so I understand that. But if we're going to look out for the safety of our students when it comes to participation in extracurricular activities, we have to give that some consideration. How it happens, I'm not sure.” – Gary Ray

“We need to give some consideration to certified athletic trainers in our schools,” he told legislators. “I know that's a big-ticket item. Don't get me wrong. I've been in education for 42 years now, so I understand that. But if we're going to look out for the safety of our students when it comes to participation in extracurricular activities, we have to give that some consideration. How it happens, I'm not sure."

Ray said doctors have provided good input to the SSAC, which will continue to improve the return-to-play protocol. If people think the commission is not doing enough, he said, they should offer ideas on how it could do more.

One step the SSAC has taken is to require head coaches to take an online course about concussions, which Ray described as “pretty good.” About 1,200 people, including 956 head coaches, took the course during the fall, he said, and more will take it for the winter sports.

Dr. Dan Martin, a physician who works with the SSAC, said the commission sent out paper forms for the schools to fill out about incidents of concussions, but many were returned by email, which he said he prefers. He said the SSAC is tracking concussions and looking at which persons are on the field when they occur and what their credentials are. The commission also is tracking physicians.

“There are enormous discrepancies between triple-A schools, double-A and single-A schools,” Martin said. “There's enormous discrepancy on physician coverage. Right now, we’re at about 65 percent rate. That’s OK for now. We’re looking at doing it digitally next year. We’re working with IT folks.”

Martin added, “I am pleased with what the state has done.”

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked if the SSAC was making the same efforts with middle schools. Ray said the commission is collecting data on middle schools.

Asked about the consequences for an official who doesn't follow protocol, Ray said that any head coach who does not take the online class cannot coach. He said a few head coaches took the test at the last minute.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, asked if there is a national repository on concussions. Ray said the data are collected nationally, but he was not sure how detailed that information is. However, he said, the information is used to consider rule changes. Martin called the national data limited and “not consistent yet.” Foster, who is a physician, said it is important to know the effects of concussions. He said the change in attitudes on treatment of concussions is similar to how attitudes changed on drunken driving.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, asked what would have been the effects if a bill about concussions in the Legislature’s regular session earlier this year had passed. Ray said the SSAC is following most of the bill’s provisions even though it did not become law. He said people in the field understand the seriousness of concussions.

“We’re going to make it stronger and stronger and stronger,” Ray said, adding that the commission will require coaches to take the online training every year.

When asked if it is a coach’s call on whether a player suspected of having received a concussion should be removed from a game, Ray said that decision belongs to the top medical provider who is present.

 

State covers health care providers at school sports events

In previous meetings of the subcommittee, there had been some questions about whether physicians and other health care professionals would have liability insurance coverage when they provide medical assistance at a school sporting event. At the November meeting, Chuck Jones, executive director of the Board of Risk and Insurance Management, said he had presented legislators with a letter that says his agency would provide coverage for physicians and athletic trainers. He said the policy is on his agency’s website.

“Our goal in this instance is to provide protection for the volunteer physicians and athletic trainers to allow them to do the job they’re trained to do,” Jones said.

The agency’s primary policy provides $1 million in coverage per occurrence, he said, and there also is an excess policy for county school boards providing $5 million in coverage per occurrence.

Stollings, who is a physician who sometimes treats athletes injured during school sports activities, said the letter was the first confirmation he had seen that there is coverage for medical professionals at school sports events.

 

Students are not improving under West Virginia’s physical education policy.

The subcommittee also received information from Don Chapman, assistant director of the Education Department’s Office of Healthy Schools, about how West Virginia’s requirements for physical education in schools compare to those of other states. First, he noted that there is a difference between physical education and physical activity, although some people use the terms interchangeably. A physical education program provides learning opportunities, appropriate instruction, and meaningful and challenging content for all children, he said, and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education has criteria for what a good-quality program should include. By contrast, Chapman said, physical activity is bodily movement of any type and could include recreational, fitness and sport activities such as jumping rope, playing soccer, lifting weights, as well as such daily activities as walking to the store, taking the stairs or raking leaves.

West Virginia requires physical education to be offered every year from kindergarten through eighth grade, but students must complete only one class in the high school grades, nine through 12. Other states vary widely from no statewide requirements in South Dakota to Washington’s requirement for grades kindergarten through eight to have at least 100 minutes per week and high schools to offer physical education all four years.

The West Virginia Board of Education’s position is that it is sensitive to many schools’ inability to meet physical education instructional time requirements without an alternative plan. The last time the Legislature passed a law about physical education was 2006, when it required elementary schools to provide it for 30 minutes for three days per week, middle schools to provide it for one full period for one semester per year and high schools to provide one full course credit for graduation.

In April 2006, the state board issued a statement that says: “The Board believes that county boards of education should strive to exceed the minimum standards and provide daily physical education classes whenever and wherever staff and facilities allow. The Board recommends that county boards of education support and promote the development of school schedules that allow students and staff to accumulate at least sixty minutes of physical activity everyday through a combination of physical education, recess, and before/after school activities.”

Asked about data from before and after the 2006 law, Chapman said the fitness of West Virginia students “flat-lined.” However, he added that their fitness might have gotten worse without the law.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

A conservative activist has called on legislators to act against the West Virginia Board of Education’s anti-bullying policy. Jeremy Dys, president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, told members of Education Subcommittee C at their November meeting that the policy has “a chilling effect” on free speech.

“We should be working to increase speech, not limiting it.” – Jeremy Dys

“We should be working to increase speech, not limiting it,” he said.

The state board has assumed the right to censor speech while providing no guidance on what is offensive speech, Dys said. The Legislature passed a well-intentioned bill in 2011 to deal with cyber-bullying, he said, but the school board policy that resulted from it has gone too far. That policy specifically protects gay and lesbian students from bullying at school, but Dys said there should be a distinction between bullying and expression of a person’s belief.

“Bullying is distinguished from other types of harassing behavior because of its severe and ongoing nature and that is so pervasive that it deprives a student of his or her right to an education,” he said.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, asked whether a school should tell a student he or she is out of line for calling an effeminate boy a nasty name. Dys said the law should apply equally and fairly.

“Any student who purports to profess faith in Christ who would use such epithets should be roundly condemned,” he said. “We should not encourage that type of speech. That misportrays the gospel as well as misportrays the right to freedom of speech. I would counsel that student to use loving, caring language.”

When asked how he would change the board’s policy, Dys said he would remove the phrase “of offensive speech” from it.

Wells asked if it would be acceptable for one student to call another student “gay.” Dys said that would be acceptable. But Wells said language on both sides can be offensive. It bounces off of adults, he said, “But for a 10-year-old kid, it doesn’t bounce off.”

“What’s offensive to one person is not to another,” Dys responded.

Wells noted that this is an electronic age in which comments made in school can linger on the Internet.

“I certainly agree that harassment is a growing problem from the time you and I were in school,” Dys said. “Harassment seems to be growing worse and worse these days, but we need to concentrate on the issue of harassment and not the issue of censoring legitimate, protected speech.”

“Schools don’t have the right to limit or censor offensive speech simply because one person in the Department of Education subjectively determines that speech to be offensive.” – Jeremy Dys

Dys added, “Schools don’t have the right to limit or censor offensive speech simply because one person in the Department of Education subjectively determines that speech to be offensive.”

“And you’re saying it’s one person?” Wells asked.

“Absent other guidelines that I am not privy to in the Board of Education policy, it does allow any employee of the Department of Education,” Dys said.

“I don’t always agree with the department, but frankly, I don’t think it’s one person,” Wells said, adding that he has more faith in the department to be fair.

“I certainly hope that that is the case,” Dys said, but the law permits one person to make the decision.

Wells asked Dys if he had a problem with students targeting other students.

“I think all of us as parents have a problem with anyone targeting someone else they perceive as different,” Dys said. “We want all students to be safe at school. They deserve a right to education. They deserve to be there and unharassed.”

But what they don’t deserve is having their speech censored if one person finds it offensive, he said.

Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, said he thought courts had found reasonable bounds on speech to be acceptable. Dys said the key is having an act in addition to speech, but West Virginia law says teachers may limit offensive speech. He said the Legislature could amend the code simply.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

School employees and other public-sector workers covered by the Public Employees Insurance Agency will be able to go another year without an increase in their insurance premiums and without cuts in their health care benefits.

The PEIA Finance Board had been considering a plan for the fiscal year that will begin next July that would leave premiums for active employees and retirees at current levels but make some cutbacks in the benefits that are offered. However, before the board met Thursday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin decided to put an extra $4 million into the agency’s budget for next year.

That was enough to counter the need for most of the proposed changes in benefits, particularly an increase in the maximum out-of-pocket spending for people with family coverage. It otherwise would have gone up to two times the level for those with single coverage instead of the current 1.5 times the single coverage limit.

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said, “I just want to publicly thank the governor first for the $4 million that he has presented to the PEIA Finance Board. The AFT has met with him and his staff on several occasions in the last couple of months, and we felt that this is very important to give relief to public employees primarily because employees took such a hit last year, and we’re working without a pay raise this year. We felt that it was extremely important that it be left the same for the employees and that the retirees not move away from one-and-a-half to times two out-of-pocket.”

But despite the additional funding from the state, it initially looked as though the board might go forward with one change involving copayments for specialty drugs. PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said PEIA’s average cost for specialty drugs is about $4,600 a month. The proposed plan had been to move employees’ copayments for such drugs from $50 to $85 for generic or preferred brand-name drugs and $100 for non-preferred brand-name drugs, which would have saved the agency about $500,000. But Josh Sword, who represents education employees on the Finance Board, asked actuary Dave Bond if PEIA’s reserve fund could handle it if the board would put off that change for next year.

“So far – keep our fingers crossed – we’re looking pretty good,” Bond said. “The answer’s yes.”

Sword then made a motion to go forward with a plan that contains no benefit changes.

“I can’t say that I’m carrying the governor’s water here, but I truly believe that he’s come to us today with a $4 million guarantee, saying please help public employees out.” – Josh Sword

“I think the governor was courageous,” Sword said. “He asked almost all state agencies to cut their budgets by 7.5 percent. PEIA was exempted. Now, he didn’t initially say he was going to be able to come up with additional monies, but he exempted PEIA, which was big. In the meantime, he had meetings with folks along the way who were encouraging him to come up with some money, and ultimately, he decided that he thought it was important enough to make a tough budgetary decision to actually give $4 million, which is almost a 1 percent increase. Other agencies have to be very jealous of what’s going on with PEIA right now. I think he did that, because he wanted to take care of public employees. I can’t put words into his mouth, but clearly, his actions speak louder than words. He wants to take care of public employees. I think his intent – certainly can’t speak to this – but I think his intent was to offer this money so that public employees have absolutely no benefit adjustments and no premium increases. I can’t say that I’m carrying the governor’s water here, but I truly believe that he’s come to us today with a $4 million guarantee, saying please help public employees out.”

After the board approved his motion unanimously, Sword praised Ross Taylor, the cabinet secretary for the Department of Administration and chairman of the Finance Board.

“I know in this particular case, he advocated on behalf of PEIA, not only the employees but also the employers, in many conversations with the governor trying to get additional funds that will help this plan,” Sword said.

Taylor played down his role but confirmed what Sword had said earlier about Tomblin’s intentions. “He wanted to cover the costs to where there were no terrific increases or reductions whatsoever,” Taylor said.

Although PEIA will avoid premium and benefit changes during the next fiscal year, the agency might not be able to do that during the year that will begin in July 2014. Bond said PEIA is “chewing up the reserve” to get through the upcoming fiscal year but would not be able to do that for another year. Unless the agency makes some changes in benefits, he said, it looks as though the Finance Board would need to approve a plan a year from now with a 15 percent increase in employer premiums and a 9 percent increase in premiums for employees.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, the Finance Board received from the accounting firm of Ernst & Young results of audits of financial statements for PEIA and the West Virginia Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund, which the agency oversees. For both funds, the auditors gave a clean bill of financial health, what is known as an “unqualified opinion.”

 

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