News

January 4, 2013 - Volume 33 Issue 1

 

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

 


By Jim Wallace

A new year is always a time of transition, but West Virginia’s education system has had more ringing out of the old and ringing in of the new than usual as 2013 begins. The changes include a new state superintendent, a lawsuit by the former superintendent, a new state school board member and resignations by two former board members.

On Wednesday, the first business day of the year, Jim Phares took the oath of office to become West Virginia’s 28th state superintendent of schools. Over a 40-year career, Phares had gone from working as a teacher to serving as superintendent of school systems in both Virginia and West Virginia. Most recently, he was superintendent of the Randolph County schools. Previously, he served at superintendent in the Marion County and Pocahontas County schools in West Virginia.

As the state superintendent, his salary is $165,000. Phares now oversees a system with about 282,000 students and a budget of more than $2.5 billion. But he also faces the challenge of implementing reforms in the public education system. Many of those reforms resulted from recommendations of the education efficiency audit that was completed about one year ago. Late last year, the state school board developed its own proposals as a result of members’ review of the audit.

Dissatisfaction over the speed of implementing reforms is one reason the board cited for firing Jorea Marple from the superintendent’s position on November 15 and opening the way for Phares to take over. Deputy Supt. Chuck Heinlein returned to his position after serving as superintendent for several weeks following Marple’s dismissal.

Marple’s attorney is reported to have sent a letter to the Department of Education with notification of her intent to file a lawsuit over her firing. Under state law, anyone who wants to file a lawsuit against a state government agency must give the agency at least 30 days’ notice.

Meanwhile, the state board itself is undergoing some changes. In December, Tom Campbell filled a vacancy on the board. Campbell is a Democrat from Lewisburg who had served eight terms in the House of Delegates beginning in 1996. He did not seek re-election in 2012. During his time in the Legislature, Campbell served as chairman of the House Education Committee in 2005 and 2006. He fills a vacancy on the school board that was left when Lowell Johnson’s term expired in November.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will have two more vacancies to fill on the state school board because of the resignations of Pricilla Haden and Jenny Phillips. Both of them opposed the firing of Marple and pledged in November to resign from the board in protest. They reportedly submitted their resignations late in December. Haden had been a member of the board since 2003 and served as president in 2009 and 2010. Phillips had been a member of the board since 2005.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The education efficiency audit delivered to the state one year ago is expected to figure into major reforms the Legislature will take up in February, but representatives of unions for school workers would like some of the audit’s recommendations to be thrown out.

Josh Sword was especially harsh in his criticism when he spoke to members of Education Subcommittee B at their December meeting. At the time, he was still the political director for the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, but he has since moved on to a position with the AFL-CIO.

Sword said AFT-WV agrees with audit recommendations to strengthen career and technical programs and streamline the delivery of professional development for teachers and principals. But the union doesn’t like the proposal to expand the roles of Regional Education Service Agencies, he said, and it especially doesn’t like the proposal to give principals more power in hiring, firing and other personnel decisions.

”Now, it’s suggested that we further empower principals to hire and fire and move away from our current practice. One needs to look no further than the recent news involving the state board of education [in firing former state Supt. Jorea Marple] to realize that a clear and objective process should be followed when terminating an employee. We would recommend a collaborative approach between teachers and administrators.” – Josh Sword

“Many people talk about the inability to get rid of bad teachers,” Sword said. “The code and state board policy currently provide for the ability to place teachers on a plan of improvement, and if the teacher doesn’t improve, then they can fire that teacher. The current process is not a hard one to follow. The breakdown is in the process. The breakdown in the process is with the implementation of the process at the school level. Many principals feel it’s too cumbersome and too time-consuming. Now, it’s suggested that we further empower principals to hire and fire and move away from our current practice. One needs to look no further than the recent news involving the state board of education [in firing former state Supt. Jorea Marple] to realize that a clear and objective process should be followed when terminating an employee. We would recommend a collaborative approach between teachers and administrators.”

The audit has misled the public into thinking seniority is the sole factor in hiring decisions, Sword said, but state code lists seven, equally weighted hiring criteria. “It is common that the person with the most qualifications also has the most experience,” he said. “Teachers are lifelong learners who continue their education to improve their instruction. Seniority is not the problem. There are countless unfilled teaching positions all across West Virginia.”

The real problem, Sword said, is that teachers can get higher salaries and better benefits in 47 other states. Studies show that teachers are the most important employees in the education system in regard to students’ academic achievement, he said, but in West Virginia’s system, the further employees get away from classrooms the more money they make.

“The current salary ladder is completely backwards if you look at it with the research in mind,” Sword said. “Therefore, AFT-WV proposed that the Legislature and the governor make a serious commitment to teacher salaries by flipping this ladder upside down and making teachers the highest-paid employees in the system.”

“County board office and administrators’ salaries have grown to epic proportions in many counties, while resources for classrooms and students are stagnant or even dwindling.” – Josh Sword

 In addition, he said, some school districts are much more top-heavy than others. “County board office and administrators’ salaries have grown to epic proportions in many counties, while resources for classrooms and students are stagnant or even dwindling,” Sword said. He cited Monongalia County as an example, saying that district has five county-level administrators making more than $100,000 annually and another 26 making more than $80,000. Almost one in four of all professional positions in the district are not classroom teachers, he said, but the county has the second highest class size in the state.

Sword also criticized the state school board’s plan to develop new teacher effectiveness standards, because the Education Department and others already have spent three years developing such standards. “Re-inventing the wheel is certainly not an efficient way to spend our taxpayers’ money,” he said.

The solutions Sword said AFT-WV is proposing as most beneficial for the future of education in West Virginia include:

  • Streamlining professional development through the Center for Professional Development;
  • Fostering cooperation and collaboration in staffing and services among county boards, and thus, eliminating the needs for RESAs;
  • Improving mentoring programs for new teachers;
  • Hiring and firing employees based on multiple measures and using a fair and objective procedure;
  • Implementing a peer review process to allow for more local decision-making;
  • Increasing West Virginia teacher salaries to a level that attracts highly qualified certified teachers, makes West Virginia salaries and benefits competitive with other states and pays the highest salaries to those who have the most direct effects on students;
  • Examining the full scope of administrative top-heaviness in county school systems and its effects on the quality of education provided to students, such as resources and class sizes; and
  • Treating educators as professionals and giving them the time, tools and resources to be successful.

When asked if the AFT had prioritized its recommendations, Sword said it hadn’t, but the union would like a task force to be formed with all stakeholders involved. He said the task force could lead with the audit recommendations that have no opposition and then reach consensus on other issues.

Sword also shared a legislator’s concern that the audit did not deal with student attendance problems. He said students spend only 9 percent of their time in classrooms, so the education system needs to address the other 91 percent of their time.

“How do you not allow someone to run a school as they see fit and then hold them accountable?” – Sen. Erik Wells

But Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, challenged Sword on the union’s criticism of the audit’s suggestion to give principals more authority in personnel decisions. “How do you not allow someone to run a school as they see fit and then hold them accountable?” Wells asked.

In his response, Sword said the role of seniority gets too much blame. He said seniority equals school and county experience. But Wells pointed out that seniority doesn’t transfer from county to county. Sword responded that there is benefit to having someone invested in a community.

“We all realize we have to improve education in West Virginia,” Wells said, but he added that some of the union’s arguments don’t fly – such as objecting to requiring schools to be in session for 180 days each year but wanting teachers to be paid for days when schools are closed. “It bothers me that you want it both ways,” he said.  

Sword, who had not mentioned the 180-day requirement in his remarks, said he didn’t know where that criticism came from, especially considering that the Legislature has removed restrictions on when school boards start and end the school year. When Wells noted that many districts are not getting 180 days of instruction in, Sword said that can’t be blamed on a teachers’ union.

 

WVSSPA leader also objects to audit findings.

Jackee Long, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, suggested that the state would have been better off if the legislative auditor’s office had been given the task of conducting the education efficiency audit instead of assigning it out-of-state contractors.

“Some of the recommendations in the audit are rather bizarre, simply because this firm didn’t understand many of our practices, policies and school laws,” she said. “Many of the recommendations in the audit have nothing at all to do with efficiency, but rather, appear to us to be little more than orchestrating an opportunity to undo many of the rights, privileges and benefits that school employees have gained over the years.”

Long noted that the audit failed to mention the nepotism, cronyism and local politics of the past that prompted the Legislature to pass laws to protect school employees’ rights.

“It appears to us that this audit proposes to make the lowest-paid education employees even poorer.” – Jackee Long

Like Sword, she also criticized the top-heaviness of administrators at both the state and county levels. Long said such proposals as cutting back of workdays and contract years for service personnel would make the situation worse. “It appears to us that this audit proposes to make the lowest-paid education employees even poorer,” she said.

On the proposal to expand the roles of RESAs, Long said, that apparently would transfer positions eliminated from the state Education Department to the RESAs. She further criticized what she called a “bothersome recommendation” to expedite the rollout of a RESA’s bus driver training program to the entire state. She said one district that participated in the program was overcharged for it, double-billed and billed for two neighboring counties.

Long also objected to the state board’s response to an audit recommendation to eliminate the requirement for counties to pay additional compensation for bus drivers who perform midday runs during work hours. The board has recommended changing bus drivers to working eight-hour days and having them serve as aides when not driving, but she said that is not realistic.

“Bus operators are specialized in driving a bus not working in a classroom,” Long said. “Once again, this sounds good but [is] not logical.”

In addition to the audit’s recommendations, she objected to what she called “some glaring omissions.” For example, Long said, the audit says nothing about school boards’ spending on attorneys’ fees. She said a series of Freedom of Information Act requests revealed that 36 county boards have spent $8 million for attorneys in the past three years, even though they could get free representation from their counties’ prosecuting attorneys – and not all the responses to those requests to all the school boards had been compiled yet.

Another omission Long cited was the Wayne County Board of Education’s practice of providing cars to 31 of its employees. She said her union did not understand why those taxpayer-funded “company cars” did not bother the auditors, but the auditors recommended cutting service personnel salaries to save money. Likewise, Long said, the auditors were not bothered by most county boards’ practice of paying principals in the summer, when no students or staff are in the schools, but they questioned paying cooks for 200 days when students were in schools for only 180 days.

“The most bothersome thing about this audit is that it seeks to deal with some of the supposed inefficiencies in our system like corporate America does much of the time,” Long said. “This audit proposes we become more efficient by cutting jobs, salaries, hours, benefits and working conditions for the lowest-paid workers while essentially protecting those at the top and ignoring their inefficient practices.”

 

WVEA will say more later.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, also appeared before the subcommittee, but he gave only a brief presentation, because the WVEA plans to return early this year with a report on the seven forums it held around the state on the audit recommendations.

Delegate Walter Duke, D-Berkeley, said he attended the WVEA’s forum in Martinsburg and heard much from participants about decades of bureaucratic turmoil. Lee said he also heard such comments. In addition, he said, he heard much concern about student absences and was surprised the audit made no mention of accountability on the part of students and parents.

Wells noted that legislators and judges have started taking truancy seriously, but he called it “disheartening” that Marple cut the budget for anti-truancy programs when she was still superintendent. He also asked Lee what the starting salary for a teacher should be. Lee responded that West Virginia loses many teachers who can earn $25,000 more by taking other jobs. He suggested that teachers should be paid like other professionals with salaries in the range of $70,000 to $100,000. Wells said the starting salary for teachers now is about $35,000. Lee said it should be at least $40,000 and critics should stop blaming teachers for all the ills of society.

Then Wells suggested treating teachers as professionals with salaries of at least $50,000, but requiring them to work in year-round school calendars. Lee said the WVEA once proposed 205-day contracts for teachers, but the proposal went nowhere after the cost was considered. He added that any plans for year-round schools would require community buy-in.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

County officials are hoping the Legislature will change a law before it takes effect in July, but at least a few legislators seem to need more persuasion to take action. The law would reduce funding to county school districts by 8 percent whenever property tax assessments fall below 54 percent of fair market value. Tax assessments are supposed to be at 60 percent of value, but the law provides for leeway of 10 percent.

As J.P. Mowery, treasurer and business manager for the Pendleton County schools, told members of Finance Subcommittee B at their December meeting, the new law would have school boards’ local share calculated using assumed values provided by the state Tax Department instead of using local assessors’ certificates of valuation. He said the new system sometimes would give some districts more state money and sometimes give some districts less money, but the overall effect would be to add more uncertainty.

When House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, asked if the problem was a timing issue, Mowery said it wasn’t just timing but the use of different figures.

However, Delegate Sam Cann, D-Harrison, said the state has had problems with not every county assessing at 60 percent. “The intent here is to try to get people to do what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “And really, I think, we’re probably being way too lenient saying, hey, you have to be at 54 percent. Why not make it be at 60 percent if you’re not going to get penalized?”

But Mowery and others said assessing property values is trickier than legislators seem to realize. Each year, four to five counties could be under the limit, Mowery said, but that’s not the only problem with the law.

“From the school board perspective, we can’t control the valuations for property values, and that would be our concern. If there is something wrong with the valuations, then the school board could be hit negatively by the fact.” – J.P. Mowery

“From the school board perspective, we can’t control the valuations for property values, and that would be our concern,” he said. “If there is something wrong with the valuations, then the school board could be hit negatively by the fact.”

Patti Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, said several assessors from around the state came to the meeting, because they were very concerned about school boards being punished for actions of assessors.

“No assessors want any of their colleagues to be out of compliance,” she said. “It causes a problem for all of them.”

Hamilton added that assessors are subject to more oversight than other elected officials, and that includes answering to the Property Valuation Training and Procedures Commission. “They’re not out there willy-nilly just doing their own thing,” she said. “They are very, very regulated and monitored.”

Noting that no one goes into an assessor’s office to complain about taxes being too low, Hamilton added, “The property tax burden is shifting to residential home owners in this state as various commercial and business tax breaks pass. That money is made up somewhere and it’s shifting over to residential homeowners.”

Phyllis Yokum, assessor of Randolph County and president of the state’s assessors’ association, said, “We do have great concern about this legislation.” She noted that assessor from Calhoun County, Preston County, Summers County, Raleigh County, Greenbrier County, Upshur County, Fayette County and Marion County, as well as the assessor-elect from Monroe County, were at the meeting.

“There are already very good provisions in effect that monitor assessors,” Yokum said. “We get monitored very heavily.”

The Property Valuation Commission, which came into existence in the early 1990s, consists of assessors, citizens and Tax Department officials, she said, and it determines if assessors are incompliance or not. “In the past, maybe the PVC wasn’t as diligent as they could have been in making sure that assessors were in compliance,” she said, but that is no longer the case.

“The assessors have asked for classes,” Yokum said. “We have received those classes from the state Tax Department. Those were voluntary classes that we could take, and they were packed. They were filled. Assessors want to do the job right. We want our employees to do the job right.”

What they don’t want is for school boards to be punished.

 

Tax expert sees several problems with new law.

Jerry Knight, a property tax consultant, told legislators that he had some concerns after looking at the law that is scheduled to go into effect in July. He explained that a median assessed value is not a literal number but a measure of a central tendency, so it might or might not be indicative of what properties are selling for in a county and how they are being assessed. A number of statistical measures must be determined, he said, but the new law assumes that the median assessment level is a literal number, if that number falls below 54 percent. The trouble with that, Knight said, is that if the number has a 90 percent confidence level statistically and comes out to 54 percent, it could be actually be 60 percent.

“That’s why, if a median assessment’s 54 [percent], it’s deemed to be 60 [percent], because it falls within that 90 percent confidence level,” he said. “You don’t know that it’s 54; it may be 60. This particular piece of legislation looks at the 54 percent median level and treats it as though it’s 60, but if you fall to 53, rather than assuming that there’s a possibility that 53 level indicated a median level assessment is 58 percent, it assumes it is a literal 53 percent. That statistically is incorrect. This particular piece of legislation, because of that, is flawed in that respect.”

Knight offered further explanation involving a calculation called the coefficient of dispersion, which he said the new law would not take into account. He said it also does not contemplate “sales chasing,” in which sales that are outside a reasonable range can be excluded from the database.

The basic problems Knight sees with the law are that:

  • It would penalize a school board if a county’s assessment level is below 54 percent, even though the school board has no control over assessments.
  • It would assume any level below 54 percent is a literal number without any leeway.
  • Once the level assessment drops below 54 percent, the law would give an assessor no time to take corrective action. “If that level in any one year falls below 54 percent, the school boards are automatically penalized, and assessors don’t even have time to react to that issue.”

In addition, Knight said, there could be some legal ramification related to the constitutional requirement to provide all West Virginia students with a thorough and efficient education. He reminded legislators that the ability to fund schools once came directly from property taxes in each county, but tax revenues varied greatly from county to county, so when a county could not afford as much as other counties, its students were denied a thorough and efficient education. A court ruling in the 1980s known as the Recht Decision in a case called Pauley v. Bailey changed that and led to the Legislature’s creation of the School Aid Formula, which supplements local revenues with state funds.

“This piece of legislation is a move away from that,” Knight said. “What it does is it says if that local share is insufficient, you’re going to further reduce the state share that goes in to make up that difference, and it appears that it is diametrically opposed that mandate of Pauley v. Bailey that the Recht decision established and the Legislature took to address that issue.”

In the 2012 regular legislative session, the House of Delegates passed a bill to repeal the new law, but it died in the Senate Education Committee. Knight said the Legislature should reconsider such a bill.

 

Figures trouble legislators.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said she had the Education Department run local share calculations for several years. She said they revealed that Hampshire County could have lost more than $230,000 under the system set out by the new law, even though the old method would put the county’s assessments right at 60 percent. That did not surprise Knight.

“You could have a situation where it appears a county is at 60 percent, but once you do the statistical analysis and look at what’s actually going on in that county, you may find that it’s not a 60 percent,” he said. “It may be higher; it may be lower. That’s the problem with this legislation looking at that median ratio and assuming that it’s the level of assessment.”

Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, asked why the Tax Department and assessors’ figures would not agree. Yokum explained that, in December, assessors send the Tax Department estimated values of assessments, but the assessors’ books don’t close until after each county’s Board of Equalization and Review meets in February. “Values can change somewhat from December to the end of February,” she said.

Yokum assured legislators that all assessors try to tax property at 60 percent, but appraisal values can vary. “Assessors like to be at 95 percent, and that’s because you’re not sticking it to your taxpayers, but you’re doing your job,” she said.

That led Cann to ask, if the method in the new law doesn’t work, what would?

Yokum suggested giving the Property Valuation Commission and the Tax Department a year or so to work something out. But White was disturbed that certain counties had histories of undervaluing property, and he worried that they would be tempted to do it again.

“I’m going to call it creative assessing. I do think assessors are more vigilant in trying to get true values in their counties now.” Delegate Harry Keith White

“I’m going to call it creative assessing,” he said. “I do think assessors are more vigilant in trying to get true values in their counties now.” But White said one reason the Legislature passed the new law was to get fairer funding at the local level. He suggested that everyone who has an interest in the issue make their opinions known to legislators as soon as possible, because the 2013 legislative session is getting close.

Knight said that, if legislators don’t repeal the law, they should give assessors time to get back into compliance when their figures fall outside the 10 percent leeway.

“Absent that, I think it’s a very harsh penalty for school boards when they don’t even set the level of assessment,” he said. 

 

 

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia’s mathematics instruction is changing. Education Department officials told members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability at their December meeting that the changes are a result of adapting West Virginia’s methods to the Common Core standards that 46 states are using.

Gone are courses with names like Algebra I, Algebra II and Trigonometry. In are high school classes called Math I, Math II and Math III as part of what is called West Virginia’s Next Generation High School Mathematics.

Lou Maynus, mathematics coordinator in the Office of Instruction, said the changes involve more than high school classes, because middle school is a critical area. “There’s been a shift in that eighth grade is two thirds of what we’ve typically thought of as algebra,” she said. “So there’s been a shift in content.”

The national standards for high school math came to West Virginia in conceptual categories, not laid out in courses, Maynus said, and a state working group consisting of 85 teachers and others put them into its own framework. She said the result was a 20 percent shift in content.

“The big shift is with quadratic functions,” Maynus said, which were moved from what was Algebra I into what is now Math II. “Algebra II teachers complained constantly that they had to go back and reteach some of the content of Algebra I, basically the quadratics.”

The 20 percent shift in content provides a seamless learning progression through high school, she said. Algebra and geometry are now part of Math I. Maynus said the learning progressions are based on a national math panel report and volumes of research.

“In the past, when students took a math course, it would be a sprint. You would run to the end and then stop. You run to the end and then stop. With Math I, II and III, it’s more like a relay. The content goes deeper with more sophistication as you go through the high school years.” – Lou Maynus

“In the past, when students took a math course, it would be a sprint,” she said. “You would run to the end and then stop. You run to the end and then stop. With Math I, II and III, it’s more like a relay. The content goes deeper with more sophistication as you go through the high school years.”

Maynus said there are many fourth course options, including advanced placement courses in calculus, statistics and computer science. She said she personally called 29 states to find out what they are doing and found some similarities to West Virginia’s approach and some differences. She said West Virginia named its first three high school courses Math I, II and III to follow international standards and be transparent.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he would like Education Department officials to give legislators more explanation sometime of how they are making decisions on the Common Core and how to implement those decisions statewide.

“I’ve heard criticism from people on Math I,” he said. “I think the more we talk about this and the more we understand it the better off we can be. I do think we’re going to have to have a number of conversations related to this.”

Plymale emphasized that education officials need to make sure they establish a West Virginia curriculum and not just a national curriculum. Maynus said the state took national standards and tweaked them to fit West Virginia’s needs.

Robert Hull, associate superintendent in the Division of Teaching and Learning, said all training for teachers in the new system will be completed this summer and implementation of the system will be completed by June 2014.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, asked if the change would reduce the need for graduates of West Virginia high schools to take remedial courses in college. Plymale said it could have that effect. Maynus added that elementary math has shifted to set kids up better for high school courses, so that also should result in some improvement. Hull added that the Education Department is coordinating its changes with higher education officials.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

State officials have told legislators that they are trying to help school districts deal better with students who are sent to out-of-state facilities for treatment and to reduce their costs for those students.

Patricia Homberg, executive director of the Office of Special Programs, told members of Education Subcommittee C at their December meeting that the Department of Education recognizes there are financial challenges for county school boards when students are placed in facilities in other states. A student’s county of residence is determined to be the county where the student spent the last 45 school days in West Virginia, she said. Some county boards have complained that they were saddled unfairly with costs for students’ out-of-state treatment, especially when those students just happened to spend their last several weeks in particular counties after starting out elsewhere.

The policy for dealing with students placed out of state was established two decades ago. Homberg said the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Resources signed agreements in 1991 and 1993 that provided for DHHR to pay students’ residential costs and the Education Department to pay their educational costs. She said the two departments signed a new agreement on September 6, 2012, that continues essentially the same policy but with some modifications. Those changes include involving county special education directors in discussions about the students’ placements and making sure districts are aware of when students return from out of state.

“Many times, these students have pretty significant issues, and the county school systems need to know in advance when these students are coming back from out-of-state placement for a smooth transition.” – Patricia Homberg

“Many times, these students have pretty significant issues, and the county school systems need to know in advance when these students are coming back from out-of-state placement for a smooth transition,” Homberg said.

Another provision in the agreement is for an effective interagency, coordinated, consolidated monitoring system. It also provides that students will have their individualized education plans written on West Virginia forms and that the out-of-state facilities must consult with the students’ home districts. In addition, the students are to have some sort of standardized assessment. Homberg said the Education Department is trying to get the WESTEST2 administered at the facilities that are close to West Virginia. She said the department also has developed a joint monitoring schedule with DHHR.

After the department began billing local districts for the education costs of the students in the 2009-2010 school year, many districts complained. Homberg said that, after 2010-2011, it was decided that the state would pick up a portion of the costs. She said the department began working on ways the counties could get some money back, and now, districts can get some money back through the School Aid Formula and from High Cost Expenditure/High Acuity funds. As a result, she said, the districts pay just one-third of the cost of educating a student, instead of about 60 percent of the cost.

In addition to notifying districts about which students are credited to them and where they are placed, Homberg said, the state is working on transitions for when students return to their home districts. She said that some students are sent out of state for specialized foster care, while others are sent out of state for treatment as sexual offenders, because West Virginia does not have a facility for that. 

Douglas Robinson, commissioner of the DHHR’s Bureau for Children and Families, said the state wants to do what’s in the best interest of each child and that child’s family. He said the Court Improvement Program, which began more than a decade ago, has been very beneficial, because it has increased collaboration between the courts and DHHR and resulted in improved understanding on both sides. A commission created in 2005 issued a report in 2006. It met voluntarily after that.

About 4,200 children are in the state’s care at any time, and a few hundred of them are in out-of-state facilities, Robinson said.

When Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, asked if it would be feasible to set up a central facility in West Virginia to handle troubled kids, Robinson expressed some doubt and said a study would be needed to determine that.

“What we are more likely to do is work with different networks of providers,” he said. Those providers are trying to develop programs, but some are too specialized to be set up in West Virginia, Robinson said.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Members of Education Subcommittee A want their lawyers to try again at crafting a bill that would protect medical providers who offer their services at school sports activities. The version they received at their December meeting would not do enough in the opinion of some legislators.

As staff attorney Dave Mohr explained it, that version of the bill would do two things:

  1. It would remove the requirement for a physician to have a prior agreement with a school.
  2. The state Board of Risk and Insurance Management (BRIM) would be required to include volunteer team physicians in its policies for school systems.

Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel, asked how that would affect other health care providers, such as chiropractors. Mohr said it would not cover them. He said BRIM already has a blanket policy for anyone volunteering at schools and it covers volunteers who come out of the stands to help. But Mohr said BRIM does that only by policy without being required by law to do so.

“I certainly appreciate that we’re trying to move forward on this, but if anything, I think this is a step backwards.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman, Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said, “I see this almost as a step backwards.” He noted that Chuck Jones, executive director of BRIM, had told the subcommittee that all providers would be covered as volunteers, but the proposed bill would be limited to physicians. Stollings is among physicians who have offered services at sports events and said the bill needs to be tweaked. “I certainly appreciate that we’re trying to move forward on this, but if anything, I think this is a step backwards,” he said.

Mohr said BRIM covers physicians by its own volition, but the proposed bill would require it by law.

Anthony Majestro, a lawyer who spoke for his fellow lawyers in the Association for Justice, said he was taken aback by Stollings’s comments. He said the law already offers much immunity for medical providers and his group thought it had worked out a good revision.

“We thought this was a good compromise provision,” Majestro said. For example, he noted, that it would eliminate the requirement for a school to give a provider permission of offer services before an event occurs, but Jones revealed that BRIM has provided coverage for volunteers for a long time. “We are aware of nothing other than anecdotal evidence of this even really being a problem,” Majestro said, but added that his group is willing to work with the subcommittee.

“We all think that the right thing to do is to protect children from unnecessary injuries,” he said. “We’re willing to do what we can to move that ball along.”

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, told Majestro, “I was a little concerned with your first statement when you came out and said that we worked it out and we feel comfortable. I think we’re the ones who are the policymakers that make the decisions on that, and if we want to take it further, we can.”

Noting that there have been students who have been injured while playing sports, Plymale said, legislators want to make sure that physicians are covered whenever they offer help. He agreed with Stollings that the bill needs more work and added that legislators want to avoid a fight with Majestro’s association.

Majestro said that, if there is any doubt about whether a student can return to play, caution should rule. Plymale agreed with that.

“We can’t legislate common sense, but certainly, common sense should apply.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“We can’t legislate common sense, but certainly, common sense should apply,” he said. “I would err on the side that we give physicians or any medical professional that is qualified – however we determine they are qualified – give them the exemption or the coverage on this, because personally, I think if you save one kid on this, you’ve done your job.”

Again, Majestro agreed with Plymale. He said he was at the Capitol on the last day of this year’s regular legislative session when a bill to address the issue died. He thought it was a shame it died, because it had good provisions, but immunity provisions were the sticking point. At that point, Majestro said, he volunteered to work on new legislation.

“I would suggest that maybe you want to be careful about who you give immunity to to decide whether or not somebody has a concussion or not before they go back into a football game or a soccer match,” he said.

Plymale said he witnessed the death of the previous bill as well, and he thought the reason is died was “a poor excuse.” Majestro said his group didn’t think the bill was necessary but agreed to come up with a compromise.

When Stollings asked about the difference between the “Good Samaritan Rule” medical providers have in providing aid during emergencies and the insurance coverage the proposed bill would offer, Majestro said, “Insurance coverage provides you something that immunity doesn’t and that is that they [the insurers] hire the lawyers. BRIM coverage provides indemnity and defense from lawsuits. The Good Samaritan Act applies only in emergencies.”

Gary Ray, executive director of the Secondary School Activities Commission, said he also had some concerns about the way the proposed bill was written. The subcommittee wants to have a revised version to review at the January meeting.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Legislators are reluctant to consider a new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and killed consideration of one such bill in December, but one group hopes they will make it harder for public school students to get them during the school day. That is among the recommendations that Helen Matheny, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Lifestyles Coalition, offered to members of the Joint Committee on Health at their December meeting.

The coalition’s three recommendations include:

  • Eliminate the sale and distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools by repealing section 18-2-6a of state code.
  • Suggest to the state school board that it change its policy to require at least 50 percent of physical education class time should be spent in moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity. Matheny said children often are seated to learn the rules of sports.
  • Have the state school board encourage the use of school facilities to enhance access to and availability of physical activity opportunities. Matheny said, “This can be accomplished by the state board encouraging local school districts to enter into agreements supporting joint         use of facilities and protecting schools from liability.” She cited a 2011 study that found that every $1 spent on building biking trails and walking routes saved $3 in medical expenses. Matheny said Huntington is working on connecting parks together and schools to the parks. In some places, schools could open their gyms and tracks for community use, she said.

Matheny also offered several initiatives she said the coalition strongly supports:

  • Increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables by increasing the number of farmers' markets around the state. Matheny said that has been effective elsewhere in the country.
  • Increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables by supporting and expanding the Farm-to-School Initiative. 3)  Support and expand the Health and Physical Education Leadership Academy to include all teachers who are required to teach physical education at least once a week.
  • Supporting and expanding the Health and Physical Education Leadership Academy to include all teachers who are required to teach physical education at least once a week.
  • Adopting comprehensive strategies to reduce overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Matheny said that includes ensuring ready access to drinking water and other alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages. She added that drinks with a lot of citric acid, such as Mountain Dew, also cause damage to the enamel in children's teeth.
  • Reducing the consumption of tobacco products through an increase in the tobacco excise tax. West Virginia's tax is lower than all but two surrounding states, Virginia and Kentucky. A surgeon general's report shows that increasing the tobacco tax is a sure way to reduce consumption, especially among youths and young adults.
  • Improving access to dental care for pregnant women by establishing a comprehensive dental benefit for those enrolled in Medicaid. Such a bill was introduced in the last session with a fiscal note of $442,000, Matheny said.

The Legislature created the Healthy Lifestyle Coalition in a law passed in 2005. Matheny said, “The coalition is unique in that it is the only statewide health coalition that was created by a Legislature.” Since it was created, she said, the coalition has been working to fulfill its charge by encouraging policy, system and environmental change and promoting evidence-based best practices.

Matheny said the coalition relied heavily on a report about preventing obesity issued by the Institute of Medicine, which said West Virginia needs to redouble its efforts.

Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, asked what obesity costs Medicaid. Matheny said she did not have that information, but Lane said he had seen statistics from other states that obesity accounts for between 9 percent and 13 percent of their total Medicaid costs.

Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, said the Agriculture and Agri-business Committee that he co-chairs received a presentation this month about the Farm-to-School Initiative.  He suggested that it is the type of issue on which several legislative committees could work together. He called for a collaborative effort in the next session.

Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman said, “I certainly think that’s an excellent idea.”

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Legislators have been warned that West Virginia will need several thousand more direct-care workers to provide services in clients’ homes within five years to cope with the state’s aging population. One solution for caring for some of West Virginia’s oldest residents is to turn to some of its youngest resident – and schools – for help.

Phil Schenk, director of the West Virginia Partnership for Elder Living, told members of the Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long-Term Care at their December meeting, that senior service agencies in 2011employed about 7,600 direct-care workers, but at least as many were likely to provide such services without being reported.

“The demand is, of course, very large and will increase. It is anticipated it will increase by 29 percent in the next five years, taking us up to 20,000 direct-care workers in West Virginia, and that will mean we will need another 5,000 in five years.” –Phil Schenk

“The demand is, of course, very large and will increase,” he said. “It is anticipated it will increase by 29 percent in the next five years, taking us up to 20,000 direct-care workers in West Virginia, and that will mean we will need another 5,000 in five years.”

The average wage in West Virginia for such workers is about $8.40 an hour, Schenk said, which is lower than the national average of about $10 an hour. About 30 percent of direct-care workers receive some kind of government aid, he said, and about 28 percent have no health care insurance at all, 30 percent are on Medicaid and about a quarter qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

Schenk said those working under the table get no Social Security credit, and they are paid as little as $3.00 an hour plus food and board. “Those folks may very well have no training whatsoever,” he added.

West Virginia has no current regulations for independent care providers, he said, and there has been no statewide curriculum for training agency or independent providers – until now.

In 2010, his organization provided funding to the Hancock County Senior Services to study the need for a registry for in-home direct-care workers. That led to legislation with rules to be approved this coming legislative session. The group then moved on to a standardized curriculum for direct-care workers, as called for in the state Alzheimer’s plan. The group finally decided to offer a program to secondary school students.

“The reason for putting this training at the secondary school level included the high need for trained workers in the field, a lack of job opportunities for high school graduates who can’t go on to college, and a low number of people with formal training specific to in-home care,” Schenk said. Compensation for those workers might happen as certified workers compete with uncertified workers for jobs, he said. Also, young adults have more strength and endurance than older adults, Schenk said, so they are better suited for the job.

Some young people already are getting on-the-job experience in caring for older people. Schenk reported that a survey of elders with chronic or advanced diseases shows that 17 percent rely on children under age 18 to provide care for them on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Also, a 2006 report to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation concluded that 22 percent of high school dropouts cited the need to care for family members as the reason they left school. Schenk said the new effort is to train them, so they know what they are doing and they can get jobs.

Several agencies were involved in designing a curriculum with 14 modules, he said. It covers all aspects of personal care work for elders in their homes, as well as Medicaid and other regulations, Schenk said. It has been approved by the Department of Education, so those who complete the course will be certified. At least four county career-technology programs are expected to offer it to high school students as a one-semester course beginning in January. Schenk said at least one senior center will offer it to adults who want to become direct-care workers in a 12-week course for two evenings a week. Trainers for the program have been certified, he said.

“There is little or no relation between this program for the training of direct-care workers and the in-home direct-care worker registry,” Schenk said. “Let me make it clear that we strongly believe there should be no requirement for certification of direct-care workers at this time in the state.” However, he said, there will be a place in the registry for workers to indicate if they have had the training.

Schenk said, if the program is to continue, funding will be needed for books and materials for courses taught outside the schools, as well as for a publicity campaign.

“Looking at other states, this puts us probably in a unique position,” he said. “We have not been able to find any other state where secondary students are being trained.”

Schenk added that the jobs for which the students will be trained as not easy. “I was amazed at the number of things one of these people has to be prepared to do,” he said.

In response to a question, Schenk said the students would get at least 75 hours of training. 

 

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.