News

March 1, 2013 - Volume 33 Issue 7

 

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

 

The County Board Member Training Standards Review Committee (TSRC) on Thursday adopted the framework for a higher education-oriented training program for county board members that state Supt. Jim Phares, Ed.D., has endorsed.

The Leadership Capacity Delivery Model, which involves collaboration among the West Virginia Department of Education, West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School Board Association, as well as other entities, is designed to develop leadership capacity at the county level among board members and superintendents.

Although most Leadership Capacity Delivery Model program details are still being worked out, the TSRC endorsed the initiative as a means to bolster county board member development to meet the challenges of what many see as greater degrees of governmental authority residing with local boards.

“There is a persistent concern among state-level policymakers, particularly legislators, that many county boards are simply not equipped in terms of overall – or birds-eye-view –  leadership wherewithal to assume greater local autonomy.” – Howard O’Cull

“There is a persistent concern among state-level policymakers, particularly legislators, that many county boards are simply not equipped in terms of overall – or birds-eye-view –  leadership wherewithal to assume greater local autonomy,” WVSBA Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., said. “The state superintendent approached the state School Board Association Executive Committee shortly after assuming office – literally following a meeting with the WVSBA Executive Board – making known these expressed concerns. The Executive Committee endorsed the notion of working with the Leadership Capacity Delivery Model as finally framed by the TSRC.”

“I applaud the TSRC for their visionary move to fully endorse the Leadership Capacity Delivery Model,” said state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares. “As more local control is distributed to the counties, it is vital that county board members receive support, training and research on best practices.”

At the TSRC meeting, the Training Committee endorsed the proposal and settled upon a framework for county board development.

“We know most details are left unresolved, but we can expect some parts of the project to commence soon, including work with county boards operating under state board of education intervention,” O’Cull said.

Work with those county boards, which will build upon previous WVSBA efforts, will commence at the organization’s Winter Conference slated for next week in Charleston.

“Building upon the work of Meno Consulting and what WVSBA has done to address the plight of county boards operating under state intervention, the Leadership Capacity Delivery Model focuses on development of these boards so as to augment their effectiveness once local control is returned,” O’Cull said. He added that the TSRC is aware much more than county board development is necessary for “system returns,” but that leadership capacity can be enhanced through the Leadership Capacity Delivery Model.

“As more local control is distributed to the counties, it is vital that county board members receive support, training and research on best practices.” - Jim Phares

“The TSRC not only endorsed the concept because of its potential to foment greater local decision-making capability but also the positives for all county boards,” O’Cull said. “All county boards will, in some fashion, be involved with these programs which, among other things, stress an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving.”

“Literally put, the initiative is designed to be delivered within the context of existing association programing venues – fall and winter conferences – but distinctly centered,” he said. The initiative largely will begin in June with a leadership conference to be held in the Beckley area. “This programing will involve all participants,” O’Cull said.

The TSRC-endorsed framework includes the following components:

  1. West Virginia University professors Micah Fierstein, Ed.D., Paul Chapman, Ed.D., and Jerry Jones, Ed.D., will conduct a needs assessment relative to the six county boards of education operating under state intervention. This will occur at the March 8 WVSBA Winter Conference. In conducting the needs assessment, Fierstein, Chapman and Jones will review extant WVSBA data and inventories. The needs assessment will be future-focused and will include, among other components, inquiry concerning how individual county board members in “intervention counties” can assume greater leadership roles in working to extricate their systems from state control, including identification of barriers that may thwart that.
     
  2. The “intervention” county board members and superintendents will remain engaged in this process through an electronic link to findings and as a means to provide additional input.
     
  3. In mid-March, the School Board Association, pursuant to state code, will forward an evaluation document for county boards that satisfies W.Va. Code §18-5-1c.
     
  4. In early April, a Leadership Capacity Delivery Model work group comprised of O'Cull, Fierstein, Chapman, Jones and Barbara L. Parsons, Ed.D., membership liaison to the WVSBA Executive Board, and others will examine the data from the work with “intervention counties” as described above as well as the statewide school board assessments. The group will begin to work on the June WVSBA Leadership Conference, which will include feedback for county boards under state board “intervention” as to the findings of their needs assessment. That meeting will be held June 7 and 8 in the Beckley area.
     
  5. At the April 2013 meeting of the TSRC, the work group will discuss, for TSRC input, various components for these development modules with the committee and preliminary designs for leadership capacity development modules. It is expected that the first such module, which may relate to leadership, will be deployed at the June WVSBA Leadership Conference – or components of it will be.
     
  6. During the summer, the work group will continue to develop, for deployment at WVSBA's September Conference, a “whole-board” training experience relative to leadership capacity development. This module will become a central part of the WVSBA conference program.
     
  7. After the September meeting, work will continue on evaluation of the “whole-board” module, and development of additional leadership capacity development modules, including one to be deployed in October 2013 at a WVSBA Saturday training session in Charleston.
     
  8. Work will commence on development of a leadership capacity development program for county superintendents and those persons who may aspire to become superintendents. This work is to be based on Project Leadership, an initiative undertaken by WVSBA about a decade ago and funded by the state Department of Education, the Claude E. Worthington Benedum Foundation and the association.
     
  9. This work will be shared continually with the TSRC for input, guidance and sanction for county board member training.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale is so intent on moving the governor’s education reform bill out of his committee by the end of next week that he has scheduled four committee meetings, instead of just two, for the week ahead. That’s after holding two meetings this week during which the committee began reviewing the bill, Senate Bill 359.

“I think it is very important that we, as legislative members, work very cohesively with the governor’s office and with the board to try to get a vision to try to move student achievement and components that are in this bill.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

 Plymale, D-Wayne, said the reforms resulting from an education efficiency audit include some that require action by the state school board, some that require action by the governor’s office and some that require action by the Legislature. “I think it is very important that we, as legislative members, work very cohesively with the governor’s office and with the board to try to get a vision to try to move student achievement and components that are in this bill,” he said.

Reforms in the bill (which is available online) include the following:

  • An initiative for college and career readiness;
  • Changes in accreditation and accountability;
  • Revisions in professional development;
  • Expansion of early childhood education;
  • Increased flexibility in the school calendar;
  • Revisions in personnel law;
  • Participation in the Teach for American program;
  • More reimbursement for teachers achieving National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification; and
  • Changes in the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship program.

Hallie Mason, Gov. Tomblin’s policy director, said the bill’s two goals are to produce the best possible outcomes and to receive the highest return on education spending.

“Compared nationally, our test scores are slipping, and what we’re doing is not working,” she said, adding that businesses need a skilled workforce.

Mason tried to dispel what she called misconceptions about the bill, saying:

  • It would not hurt teachers but empower them.
  • It would enable local schools to work with Regional Education Service Agencies to get the professional development they need.
  • It would not take away faculty senates, seniority or any holidays.

On the changes in hiring practices, state Supt. Jim Phares said schools would have more flexibility in choosing teachers who are right for them instead of being forced to take those who happen to have the right certification and the most seniority. “It would give teachers more say in who their colleagues would be,” he said.

Rick Hicks, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, told the committee about a problem the Tucker County school system had when only one person applied for a position. Even though that person was not right for the job, the school system had to hire him, he said, and as expected, that individual did not work out. Hicks said schools should be able to repost positions in cases like that, as the bill would allow.

Wade Linger, president of the state school board, said the bill would change some state code to make the system less top heavy. Along that line, he said the board is moving some operations out of the department to the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) and local districts, as well as developing new policies. In addition, he said, the bill would allow the Office of Education Performance Audits to look at school systems before they are failing.

In regard to streamlining the Department of Education, Linger said, “We think we should define what the department should do before we define how many people should do it.”

 

Opinions differ on personnel issues.

“We think we should define what the department should do before we define how many people should do it.” – Wade Linger

During a discussion about whether seniority weighs too heavily now in hiring decisions, Plymale said he spoke with a judge who has heard many personnel grievances. The judge told him the way the criteria are set up now, it would be very rare for a judge to rule against the employee with the most seniority. “One of the things that we want to do is get the most highly qualified teachers in front of students,” Plymale said. “I think the new criteria the way the governor structured the bill allows us to do that. Is it a perfect system? No.”
Ryan: Use Linger pix from the past.
But Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, was skeptical. “I think there ought to be some research, some data, that show that this is a problem in West Virginia, that we are not hiring quality teachers, and therefore student achievement is going down,” he said. “If that’s the case, we need to address it, but right now I just see a solution looking for a problem.”

Mason said there is no evidence that West Virginia lacks good quality teachers. “What we’re trying to do by changing the hiring practices is to make sure that faculty senates and principals can bring in a teacher they believe fits the environment they are in,” she said.

“Here we are changing an entire system for some anecdotal stories, and I just think that’s irresponsible.” – Sen. John Unger

However, Unger remained unconvinced and expressed doubt the bill’s reforms would address problems with teacher shortages. “Here we are changing an entire system for some anecdotal stories, and I just think that’s irresponsible,” he said. When he requested evidence and statistics, Mason said she would the state school board to get him that information.

 

Committee approves bill affecting school board members

In other business, the committee approved Senate Bill 344, which is about the biennial meetings county school board members within each RESA are required have with each other every two years. Plymale explained that the bill would allow board members to be paid for attending those meetings. He said Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, suggested the bill.

In the audience as the committee discussed the bill, Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, grumbled that it sounded like a pay raise to her. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he agreed.

Because the bill involves money, Plymale said, he will ask the full Senate to send it next to the Senate Finance Committee.

The committee also heard presentations from representatives of schools in Kanawha County and Putnam County. Kanawha County Supt. Ron Duerring encouraged legislators to change policy regarding how school employees get days off. His human resources director, Carol Hamric, said school employees get credited upfront with days off instead of having to earn them first as workers in other industries must do. She said teachers on 200-day contracts get 15 days – nine sick days, three personal days and three family days – assigned to them at the beginning of the school year.

“It encourages unscheduled absenteeism,” she said.

Duerring said he would like to have more flexibility in dealing with absenteeism when he sees employees abusing it. He estimated he could reduce the budget for substitute teachers by one quarter to one half if the policy were changed. Out of about 2,000 teachers in Kanawha County, 200 to 300 of them have absentee problems, he said.

The delegation from Putnam County made a presentation about Buffalo High School, which is the first school in West Virginia to use the New Tech system. The presentation was similar to one made a few weeks ago to the House work group on education reform. For a report on that, see the February 15 edition of The Legislature.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

With education reform being the biggest matter facing this year’s session of the Legislature, the Senate Finance Committee’s annual budget hearing for the Department of Education turned into a wide-ranging discussion of how the public education system could be improved.

State Supt. Jim Phares said the department’s budget request has been cut by more than $8 million because of Gov. Tomblin’s 7.5 percent reduction in many parts of the state budget. However, Phares said about 98 percent of the department’s funding flows back to the county districts, and that money was not affected by the cutbacks. Under the governor’s recommendation, the department would get almost $2 billion from the general revenue fund, $28.7 million of lottery funds, and almost $2.8 million from other funds.

Among the cost-avoidance measures Phares said the department and the state school board have embraced are:

  • $1.1 million reduction in department salary costs through the elimination of 12 positions;
  • $1.9 million reallocation of funding to the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) and the Office of Education Performance Audits;
  • $1.1 million estimated reduction in expenses from July 1 through December 31, 2012, from Regional Education Service Agency (RESA)-based cooperative purchasing; and
  • $1.1 million reallocation of professional development funds by moving the former Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI) to RESA-based training.

Phares added that the department plans to move 16 positions from the department to the RESAs.

Although the West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that school boards no longer have to fund community libraries, he said, the department will recommend that the school boards should continue funding the libraries on a voluntary basis, at least for a while.

“I think we saw the error of our ways on that one.” – Terry Harless, chief financial officer for the Department of Education

The department had initially dropped funding of $2.23 million for the Local Solutions Dropout Prevention and Recovery program and then restored half of it, Phares said, but Gov. Tomblin restored the full allocation. Terry Harless, the department’s chief financial officer, said, “I think we saw the error of our ways on that one.” He said the department had to make tough decisions when Tomblin asked for budget cuts. Officials chose to eliminate dropout problem because it is relatively new and not available in every county, but they later realized how valuable it is, he said.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, called it a good program that has kept in school some students who otherwise would have dropped out. Phares said superintendents talk with each other, and they realize the benefits of the program. Kathy D’Antoni, assistant superintendent in the Division of Technical and Adult Education, said districts have some upfront costs when they start the program, but they eventually get that money back. She said it is operating at about 30 locations now.

Phares said the amount budgeted to send to county districts for transportation aid has been reduced by $4.16 million, because it represents incentives to county boards that use alternative fuels. Those alternative fuels currently include biodiesel, he said, but the governor is proposing changes to the definition of alternative fuels to include just natural gas or propane.

Not including positions at the Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA), the Cedar Lakes Conference Center and other institutions the department must staff, he said, the number of Education Department positions is down to 307.35 from a high of 325.52 in fiscal year 2011. “It is our estimation then when we come back this time next year, that as we repurpose the department, that we will be under 290,” Phares said. “That will be an additional 16 positions.”

Those positions are to be transferred to the RESAs. Phares said the department is trying to take advantage retirements and relocation to make the changes, but it might have to lay off some people. However, he said, he won’t reduce positions for the service areas of finance and the Office of Professional Preparation.

“I think this is a reasonable budget request. I think it is fiscally responsible and it’s prudent, and it’s a request we can make work.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“I think this is a reasonable budget request,” Phares said. “I think it is fiscally responsible and it’s prudent, and it’s a request we can make work.”

The budget considers recommendations of the education audit and the board’s response to it, he said. “We’ve already started putting some of the efficiencies in place – for example, the cooperative purchasing through the RESAs,” Phares said.  The board will establish a standard operating procedure for the cooperative purchasing that the RESAs are developing, he said.

“The efficiencies that will be realized as we repurpose professional development from the state department in a central mode to various sites throughout the state makes them more notable,” Phares said. “It means that counties also will realize efficiencies with this plan in that they won’t be paying travel, they won’t be paying hotel costs for rooms in Charleston, and…for substitutes to handle classes for teachers who are gone. So we’re very excited about the efficiencies and the savings in that.”

Rolling professional development out to the counties is expected to cost about $1.6 million, he said, but that should be offset by what the local districts will save. 

 

Even  board president makes his case to the committee.

It is not typical for the president of the state school board to address legislators at budget hearings, but this is an unusual year for education, so board President Wade Linger did speak to the Senate Finance Committee. He said things have gotten much better at the board and the department over the past couple of months.

Linger told the senators that it might be difficult for them to see the results of decentralization in the department’s budget because budgets for the RESAs, the OEPA, the Schools for the Deaf and Blind and the Cedar Lakes Conference Center are embedded in that budget.

“We’re making significant moves to reduce or repurpose resources within Building 6 and push them out to some of these other areas.” – Wade Linger

“We’re making significant moves to reduce or repurpose resources within Building 6 [where the department is headquartered at the Capitol Complex] and push them out to some of these other areas,” he said. Much of the changes are cost avoidance, Linger said, and the board doesn’t know yet how much that will save.

The education efficiency audit found that schools spend about $256 million a year on supplies like paper and staples, he said, but such expenses are expected to come down. “Through this cooperative purchasing, it’s easy to save 25 percent, and often it’s more like 35 to 40 percent saved,” Linger said, noting that just 25 percent of $256 million would be savings of about $60 million. “You’re buying the same stuff. You’re just buying in a smarter way.”

RESA 2 used to control purchasing in a convoluted system, he said, but every RESA now has a cooperative purchasing representative, and the RESA will get to keep 75 percent of any fees. “We’re trying to create a system where people are motivated to be out there and work with these county purchasers to use these systems and keep those savings in the schools,” Linger said.

His main point was that the school board is taking action to improve the public education system, not just talking about taking action.

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, welcomed the new cooperative purchasing effort. He said that, when he worked in his school system, he and others were irked at how much they had to spend on supplies. For example, he said, they might spend $1.79 on a roll of adhesive tape they could have bought for 88 cents at Walmart.

Linger said the new purchasing setup is an example of how the board is trying to provide more flexibility at the local level. But he said the board is unable to exercise such flexibility in purchasing supplies for the programs it provides in juvenile and adult detention institutions and at the Schools for the Deaf and Blind, because of restrictions in state code. He urged legislators to change the code and noted that it was a recommendation of the audit.

 

Some legislators seek help in accepting some reforms.

But Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, expressed some skepticism at the board’s decentralization moves. He asked whether it was just moving bureaucracy from the department to the RESAs.

Linger said there are some services that are broad enough that they would be too dispersed if you tried to put them in every county, so RESAs are good places for those services, such as professional development. Each RESA has a governing council made up of superintendents in that region, he said, so they can determine what their schools need.

“It’s getting away from the one-size-fits-all, and it’s getting away from bringing everyone to Charleston at one central point and paying for hotel rooms,” Linger said in reference to professional development.

Barnes said, “So it turns the RESAs into kind of micro-labs of competition to see who can do it best.” But Linger said he wouldn’t go that far. “It does give the opportunity for different RESAs to establish centers for excellence in different areas,” he said.

Sen. Boley asked what she and other legislators should do about the many phone calls they are getting from constituents with complaints about the governor’s education reform bill. She said misinformation is going out to the counties. Boley didn’t say it, but many people believe those calls have been prompted by prodding from unions for teachers and school service personnel.

“There’s a lot of misconception right now, and as you mentioned, change is very difficult.” – Sen. Roman Prezioso

Liza Cordeiro, communications director for the department, said she was preparing talking points that legislators would be able to use to get the facts out. Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said, “There’s a lot of misconception right now, and as you mentioned, change is very difficult.”

Boley said one of the complaints she and others had received was that the governor’s bill would eliminate holidays for school employees. Linger said that’s not true. He said part of the bill strikes through current language about holidays, but it is moved to another section of state code. Some people apparently saw the language was struck but didn’t see it was moved elsewhere, he said.

Much of the discussion about the education reforms has been about how the bill would change the hiring system to make seniority less important. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, asked how a school would be able to override seniority to hire someone better suited for a position. Phares explained that the bill would make seniority just one of eight factors to be considered in hiring decisions. When job candidates seem about evenly matched, he said, principals’ interviews or faculty senates’ interviews with the candidates could be used to break ties.

“That’s the answer I want to hear,” Hall said. “So I’m wondering if the change is significant enough that it’s not so nuanced it ends up confusing and everybody falls back to where they were.”

Phares said some training will be needed on the new system.

But when Hall asked whether a school would be able to get rid of an underperforming teacher in less than two years, Phares said a court decision prevents schools from doing that. He said they are required to give such a teacher two years to improve, unless that teacher commits one of the “deadly sins.” Phares said the administration didn’t want to try to do too much change in the governor’s bill, because then the bill might be hard for legislators to pass.

But Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, said that if it takes a few years to get rid of a bad teacher, kids are robbed of good education while that teacher is there. “I think we’re more worried about being employers than we are about being educators with policies like that,” he said.

When Phares said he agreed, Facemire said all that bureaucracy frustrates him and the Legislature should change that system.

“We’re paying them to be professional educators, and that’s what they should be. And if they’re not professional educators, they should find something else to do, because at the end of the day, it’s our children that’s being robbed of an education.” – Sen. Doug Facemire

“We’re paying them to be professional educators, and that’s what they should be,” Facemire said. “And if they’re not professional educators, they should find something else to do, because at the end of the day, it’s our children that’s being robbed of an education.”

The Schools for the Deaf and Blind would get more than $12.9 million in the governor’s budget, which is more than $467,000 less than during the current fiscal year. Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said some of his constituents would like to have a satellite of the Schools for the Deaf and Blind in southern West Virginia. Phares said the department and the board are looking at that situation. He said they probably would come back next year and talk about whether that program should stay in Romney or be put into satellite facilities.

 

School Building Authority wants to sell more bonds for school construction.

The Senate Finance Committee also held a budget hearing for the School Building Authority, which gets most of its funding from lottery revenues. Mark Manchin, the agency’s executive director, said the SBA has spent $1.67 billion since its inception in 1989, and every dollar the agency spends generates three dollars in ancillary business and services.

“We’re a major job-maker and economic engine that helps run this state.” – Mark Manchin

“We’re a major job-maker and economic engine that helps run this state,” he said.

Since 1989, SBA funds have helped build 132 new schools, including 33 high schools, 31 middle schools and 68 primary or kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools. It also has helped fund more than 1,400 additions, renovations and improvement projects at existing school facilities.  In addition, the School Access Safety Fund, created a few years ago, has funded upgrades in more than 500 schools, including keyless entries, new doors, new windows, classroom numbers, vestibules, signage, buzzer entry systems, bollards and other safety items.

Manchin said the SBA wants to move soon to sell bonds before interest rates go up. His report said that a $24,425,000 transaction amortized over 15 years in the current market would generate about $26.57 million for school construction projects.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Safety in schools was the focus of this week’s meeting of the House work group on education reform. That group is helping delegates prepare to respond to the education efficiency audit and Gov. Tomblin’s education reform bill.

Mark Manchin, executive director of the School Building Authority, said West Virginia has been trying to improve safety in its schools since long before a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, killed dozens of students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year. In 2007, the West Virginia Legislature passed the School Access Safety Act, which created a fund of $35 million and required each county to create a school access safety plan.

But Manchin said the program’s priorities have changed since the Newtown shootings. In order, they now are:

  1. Exterior doors;
  2. Interior doors;
  3. Numbering rooms inside and outside (to help authorities locate an intruder); and
  4. Keyless entry.

Some schools in West Virginia have more than 100 exterior doors, Manchin said. For example, Wheeling Park High School has 175 exterior doors.

In Newtown, the gunman shot his way into the school, and the whole incident happened in eight-and-a-half minutes. “So that tells us that time is critical,” Manchin said. Although a determined intruder might eventually be able to get through any safety barrier, he said, slowing the intruder down could reduce deaths and injuries.

“I would suggest to you that as a result of what the Legislature has done in the last four-and-a-half to five years, West Virginia has the safest schools in the United States.” – Mark Manchin

“I would suggest to you that as a result of what the Legislature has done in the last four-and-a-half to five years, West Virginia has the safest schools in the United States,” Manchin said.

In 26 counties, he said, SBA funding exceeded what the districts requested for safety improvements. The program has upgraded 429 elementary schools, 133 middle schools and 132 high schools and vocational schools for a total of 694 schools. Manchin said 94 percent of schools now have keyless entry systems.

The latest development is that the SBA is looking at a new product, a protective film for entry and ground-level windows from 3M Corporation. A 3M representative said the film was developed to protect against bomb blasts in Northern Ireland by holding glass in place. He showed a block of glass that had a bullet hole through it, and except for the hole, the broken glass remained in place. The film can handle 600 pounds of pressure per square foot and has a life expectancy of more than 20 years. Its average cost is $14 to $16 per square foot.

Manchin said, “Anything to disrupt the shooter is what we want.” He said the SBA board plans to discuss incorporating use of the film in its funding formula for new schools and major renovations. He wasn’t sure about retrofitting it at existing facilities.

Scott Raines, the SBA’s director of architectural services, said a school typically has about 3,200 square feet of glass on the ground floor. He said it probably would cost about $500 to install the film on each doorway.

Manchin said the relatively new Mary C. Snow Elementary on the West Side of Charleston has another system to keep intruders out: a red button that locks down the school and calls 911.

Jimmy Gianato, the state’s homeland security director, said his agency has helped the SBA make schools safer. After an initial National Guard assessment of the safety of schools, his agency contracted with Patriot Services, which has studied schools in 54 counties and is about to do those in the last county, he said. The company has digitally mapped each school and gathered protective critical infrastructure information, which is loaded into a secure system. Gianato said that information has been loaded into the system for 664 schools, and 911 emergency systems will get access to that information.

 

Education Department has its own safety efforts.

Mike Pickens, executive director of the Office of School Facilities at the Department of Education, said his agency also is supporting school safety. Recent legislation has required crisis response plans for every school, he said, and all 55 districts have designated safety directors and all will have completed plans by August. The department will provide training for county school officials to help them write their crisis response plans, he said.

Private schools are asking for help now, Pickens said, and the law doesn’t prohibit them from getting state help. He said it would cost about $600,000 to provide that assistance at 181 private schools across the state.

Pickens added that the crisis response plans will have to be reviewed and updated yearly.

Don Chapman, assistant director in the Department of Education’s Office of Healthy Schools, said, “Newtown threw us a curve.” He said the department was already taking a proactive approach to ensuring that schools have safe and supportive environments with a 72-page policy the state board approved in December 2011. The department began implementing the policy last July, he said.

“We want to convey a message that our schools are designed to be safe and caring and good behavior is expected,” Chapman said. “So at some of those rowdy basketball games or athletic events that we see, we have some high expectations. We’ve got some work to do.”

 

Prevention resource officers provide another measure of school safety.

Bonnie Bevers, senior justice programs specialist, Division of Justice and Community Services, said her agency has helped place 68 prevention resource officers in middle schools and high schools in 32 counties. The agency now is looking at adapting the program to elementary schools.

Three federal grants have helped with the effort, she said, but the funding has dropped, and local funds are needed for many officers. Each one must be a member of a law enforcement agency and be trained by her agency, Bevers said. They wear uniforms and have cruisers. “We discovered that having a cruiser out front and having an armed officer is a huge deterrent,” she said. The officers report any bullying or fighting that occurs in their schools. Each one is required to be in one school 35 hours a week and teach at least one class in the school.

The House work group also heard from Tom Juzwik, who works for Electronic Specialty Company in Dunbar, which provides electronic safety systems for schools around the state. He urged legislators to fund school safety efforts. The schools need money to be able to monitor the doors, he said, because monitoring the perimeter of schools is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to protect them.

“I’d like to see it funded with a tax on the Internet sales,” Juzwik said, complaining that it is unfair to retailers to provide their expertise and then have people buy the equipment they recommend online. “Tax those sales. Make it fair to our retailers in the state.”

Also, Juzwik urged state officials to concentrate first on making safety improvements to rural schools where emergency response times are longer than those in cities.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee approved two bills this week but put off consideration of a third because of a Supreme Court ruling. The committee also heard a presentation on how a balanced calendar can work at both the primary and the secondary school levels.

The bill the committee delayed is House Bill 2360, which would deal with the problem of school systems being penalized when county assessors fail to assess property accurately. House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, and staff attorney Dave Mohr said they pulled it from the agenda, because the section of state code affected also includes language about funding provided by school boards to local libraries as a result of special acts passed by the Legislature years ago. In a case involving Kanawha County, the Supreme Court ruled that such acts are unenforceable.

Mohr said there are nine of those special acts for libraries around the state. He and Poling are looking at several options to address that issue, including possibly removing that section from state code.

One of the bills the committee approved is House Bill 2563, which would require counselors to spend 90 percent of their time with students rather than on administrative tasks. Mohr said the requirement now is only 75 percent.

“I’m proud that this is the first bill coming out of this committee this year. I think it shows that we aggressively are trying to show in good faith that we’re going to attempt to do something about the school violence problem. School counselors are on the front line of preventing school violence. This bill goes a long way toward at least showing we recognize an issue in attempts to identify the mental health issues that kids have.” – Delegate Josh Stowers

“I’m proud that this is the first bill coming out of this committee this year,” Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, said. “I think it shows that we aggressively are trying to show in good faith that we’re going to attempt to do something about the school violence problem. School counselors are on the front line of preventing school violence. This bill goes a long way toward at least showing we recognize an issue in attempts to identify the mental health issues that kids have.”

House Bill 2563 now goes to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

The other bill the committee approved was House Bill 2265, which would require schools to have a protocol for crisis response for activities other than sporting events that happen after school hours.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, is not a member of the committee, but she told members that the idea came from an intern who compared West Virginia’s law to those of other states and found it was not adequate.

“I think it’s a great idea to expand this for anything on school grounds after school,” she said. The bill would require each school to have a standard plan for whom to contact in the case of an emergency or injury. The plan would be put together on the local level.

 

Balanced calendar works well in Cameron.

The presentation on the balanced – or year-round calendar – came from principals, teachers and one student from Cameron in Marshall County, where both the elementary school and the high school have switched to it.

Jack Cain, principal of Cameron High School, which includes seventh through 12th grades, said planning for the change started more than three years ago using a $49,000 Innovation Zone grant. He said that planning included bringing in people from Georgia to speak to the staff and conducting online research.

“It’s been great,” Cain said, adding that attendance has improved.

Wendy Clutter, principal of Cameron Elementary School, said the community is separated from the rest of Marshall County. She said the community is very involved in the local fair, so school officials had to consider that. Although the Cameron educators consulted with Piedmont Elementary, the school in Charleston that was the first in West Virginia to adopt the balanced calendar, they found it difficult to use the same calendar that Piedmont uses with nine week terms of classes broken up by three-week breaks, she said, So the Cameron schools modified it a bit, she said. For example, the spring break lasts two weeks. 

Cain said students seem to be rejuvenated by taking breaks after nine weeks of school, and teachers can do interventions during the breaks with some students who are having trouble. The school also has no trouble scheduling a full week off at Thanksgiving, when many students would take off anyhow for deer hunting.

Finishing the first semester with final exams before a three-week Christmas break appeals to Cain. He also likes it that the two-week break in March can be used for making up snow days. This year, makeup days already have claimed four days of that break, he said. In addition, having a break in March gives students and staff members the opportunity to take vacations when prices are cheaper than in the summer, he said. The school year ends in mid-June.Clutter said that most of her staff members are women, and under the traditional calendar, half of them took time off in December, but under the new system, she has had only one employee take a day off for shopping in the last two years. “We have to think of our teachers,” she said. “When we do things to reduce their stress or keep them in school, it helps with the flow of our instruction and having our students there. Our substitute costs are down.”

Sports have been easy to deal with, Cain said. Coaches initially were concerned about losing practice time, he said, but the number of participants doubled in every sport in the fall. With students already in school in August, parents didn’t have to worry about bringing them in, he said. The junior high football team went from about 12 players to 35 the first year. Last year, the team lost one game, and this year, it was undefeated. Before the change, Cain said, the team typically won two games a year, because it didn’t have enough players.

Likewise, the varsity football team went from 17 to 43 players, cheerleading went from 14 to 28 participants, and so many students went out for volleyball, some players had to be cut, he said.

In response to questions, Cain said his school’s calendar covers 46 weeks instead of the 43 weeks most schools have. Clutter said teachers have gone from having 200-day contracts to 220-day contracts.“It’s unbelievable, because students were not giving up their month of August just to come in and play sports,” Cain said. “Now the coaches love it. They wouldn’t want to go back.”

Absenteeism has dropped, Cain said, because students and faculty members have gotten better at scheduling appointments with doctors during breaks. Clutter explained that, because of Cameron’s location, it usually takes students and faculty out for a full day when they take off see doctors.

Test scores also have improved. One teacher said a science teacher saw her students’ test scores go “through the roof.” A student said she finds herself retaining more of her lessons under the new calendar.

A teacher said students have had no trouble participating in such activities as the Governor’s Arts Academy or statewide 4H events, because they tend to occur during the summer break from mid-June to mid-July.

Cain said his school has a teacher planning period every Wednesday morning, when school starts later for students, but the time is made up by adding minutes onto other days. He said junior high students are on nine-week grading periods, while high school students are on semesters.

Asked about maintenance, which many West Virginia schools conduct during the summer, Cain said the staff has been able to work it into the new breaks. Clutter said that, when the schools have big maintenance issues, they don’t have to wait for summer to get them fixed.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Leaders of two advocacy organizations have urged West Virginia legislators to support early childhood education, policies to reward work and the expansion of the Medicaid program to ease the problems of children in poverty in West Virginia. Their testimony came at a meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy and research group dedicated to issues facing low- and moderate-income families in West Virginia, said helping children who are living in poverty could improve their future and the state’s future.

“Poverty is not destiny, but it does place children at greater risk for physical problems, such as low birth weight, poor nutrition, poor motor skills and more accidents and injuries – also cognitive difficulties, such as poor academic performance, especially among younger children, and higher dropout rates in high school,” he said.

In addition, Boettner said, they also tend to have: social and emotional problems, such as getting along with peers and adults; low self-esteem and behavioral problems, such as high-risk activities like smoking, alcohol and drug abuse; and early sexual activity, leading to higher rates of teen pregnancies. He said those children go on to have challenges in adulthood, such as poor health, lower earnings, higher poverty rates and more criminal behavior.

The children who are harmed the most are those in deep poverty, which is defined as family incomes at less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, and those who live in “persistent poverty” for multiple years, Boettner said.

Poverty during early childhood has greater effects on certain outcomes, such as cognitive ability and high school completion, than does poverty in later childhood and adolescence, he said. That’s why Gov. Tomblin and others have emphasized early childhood programs, Boettner said.

“Paying attention to poverty in early childhood is the most important.” – Ted Boettner

“Paying attention to poverty in early childhood is the most important,” he said.

Children of color experience deep poverty, persistent poverty and early childhood poverty at higher rates than white children, Boettner said.

Poverty costs the United States about $500 billion per year, or the equivalent of 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, he said, and in West Virginia, the cost is about $3.9 billion. It contributes to severe overcrowding in prisons, the substance abuse epidemic, high rates of obesity, the high teen birth rate and dropping out of school, Boettner said.

Further, he said, reading level scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress show a strong correlation between high poverty and low reading skills.

The median income for a family of three in West Virginia in 2011 was about $54,000, while the federal poverty level for such a family was $18,530, and 200 percent of that is about $37,000. Boettner said the West Virginia self-sufficiency standard for a family of three in Kanawha County is about $36,000. About one in four children under age 18 in West Virginia are in poverty, he said.

“That’s something we really should target, because those children are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. And about half of children in West Virginia are in low-income families.” – Ted Boettner

Of the children in poverty in West Virginia, 45 percent are in deep poverty, which is defined as an income of about $9,000, Boettner said. “That’s something we really should target, because those children are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” he said. “And about half of children in West Virginia are in low-income families.”

In addition, Boettner told the committee that about 63 percent of children whose parents did not graduate from high school are in poverty, half of all children with single mothers are in poverty, about 42 percent of African-American children are in poverty (about double the rate for their white counterparts), and about 71 percent of the children have unemployed parents.

Only nine West Virginia counties have child poverty rates lower than the national average, all of which are in the northern part of the state, except for Putnam County, he said.

“It’s not inevitable; we can bring down poverty,” Boettner said. “We did it for seniors. It’s possible to do it for children as well.” He later said the main reason poverty among senior citizens has declined in the past few decades is Social Security.

Other statistics he offered included: West Virginia has 21 counties with persistent child poverty, and only 23.9 percent of people in West Virginia’s workforce have bachelor’s degrees, while the national average is 32 percent.

Real median wage growth in West Virginia is lower today than in the past, Boettner said, so more people have to get into the workforce and work longer hours. More women must work, he said.

“This can have huge problems with marriage, with family structure problems in finding a mate, being able to have an income and economic stability to have a good marriage,” Boettner said.

The median income for West Virginia women working fulltime is the second lowest in the country at about $30,000, while men fare better at about $42,000. Boettner said this can make it difficult for single mothers to get out of poverty.

“I think it’s important that we build leadership at all levels, and I think we’re doing that today by being here,” he said.

Boettner suggested that West Virginia leaders should choose priorities, set a goal and work toward it. He said the state must maximize current resources, such as federal programs. The state also should enact good policies with good accountability, he said. West Virginia is among 21 states, including Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia, with child poverty task forces, he said.

Boettner welcomed the consensus that has developed on investment in early childhood programs, which can reduce health problems and teen pregnancy rates later. He said many states use tax credits to get money back into the hands of low-income, working families. Raising the minimum wage and in-home family education and child care subsidies can help, he said.

Asked what is the most effective means of counteracting the effects of childhood poverty, Boettner cited investment in early childhood education, which includes preschool and in-home family education. He said the state earned income tax credit also helps, and that money stays within the state.

 

Coalition leader called for fixing the system.

“The problem we’re talking about is not about fixing a couple of bad apple parents; it’s about fixing a broken system. Roughly half our kids live at or near the poverty line.” – Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, said he was thrilled the Senate committee is getting into issue of poverty’s effects on children. “The problem we’re talking about is not about fixing a couple of bad apple parents; it’s about fixing a broken system,” he said. “Roughly half our kids live at or near the poverty line.”

One indication of poverty in West Virginia is that about 56 percent of children get free or reduced-cost lunches at school.

“In many ways, child poverty now hurts more than it used to,” Smith said.

His organization held 48 community meetings across the state and heard from many people who said life was different when they grew up poor. Smith said West Virginia now has historically high rates of addiction, incarceration, grandparents raising kids and single parents raising kids, as well as much lower social capital. In addition, he said, the union participation rate has gone down from 38 percent a generation ago to 13 percent, so people don’t have that to help them. Likewise, the rate of participation in church has gone down, he said.

But as bad as the situation is, the poverty problem could get worse, Smith said. More than half of West Virginia’s 16- to 24-year-olds are neither working or in school, he said. “So if we don’t address this quickly and forcefully, it could get worse,” he said.

Smith added that high-quality early childhood education yields $7 in savings for every $1 spent. He emphasized that parents should be considered the solution, not the problem.

His group came up with 94 proposals for addressing child poverty in West Virginia, whittled that down to 17 that could possibly move this year. From those, a statewide vote narrowed the list down to 10 items.

However, Smith warned the senators, “Please be skeptical of people who attempt to speak on behalf of poor kids and families who are not poor themselves, including myself and including Ted. Be skeptical of us.” He said the loudest voices often come from people who demonize and spread myths.

West Virginia needs to make policy changes to reward work, he said. His organization plans to hold a policy symposium this summer to study longer-term reforms. Smith encouraged legislators to authorize an in-depth study, such as Wisconsin and Virginia have done.

Along that line, he cited the Family Independence Initiative, which tries to rethink how social services are provided. “Rather than just giving people something, it gives the power to the families themselves to let themselves out of poverty,” Smith said. “It’s an exciting different way to look at poverty reduction, and it’s working.”

Many people are waiting for Gov. Tomblin to decide whether to expand the Medicaid program under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act. Smith said expansion is controversial, but in terms of how it would affect kids in poverty, there is zero controversy. He said it would create 6,200 jobs in West Virginia.

“It rewards work by providing health insurance to people who do work. It’s an enormous benefit to businesses.” – Stephen Smith

“It rewards work by providing health insurance to people who do work. It’s an enormous benefit to businesses,” Smith said. “Business doesn’t have to pay the Obamacare tax if their workers are covered by Medicaid, which they would be but only if we expand it. If we don’t do it, other states will take our money and our businesses.” It would put $4,000 to $5,000 back into the coffers of poor families to pay for child care, food and utilities, he said.

The committee received further encouragement to support the expansion of Medicaid from Heather Miller, the mother of an eight-year-old son. She said she and her husband of 14 years both work fulltime jobs and have been without medical insurance for a few years. They’re grateful their son is insured through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, she said.

Miller said that, in 2005, she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that affects her lymph nodes and makes her short of breath. She said she must be seen by a doctor every two months and have periodic chest x-rays. Her husband has high blood pressure and a form of osteoporosis that causes his cartilage to deteriorate faster than normal. She said they must pay out of their pockets for medical care, so they hope Medicaid will be expanded in West Virginia.

At the end of the meeting, the committee’s chairman, Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said, “This is going to be a journey. We’re not going to solve this overnight.”

Unger also announced that the committee would take a field trip on March 13 to Oak Hill to meet with citizens living in poverty.

 

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.

 

 

By Christine Galusha

 

Kanawha Sequestration ‘Pink Slip’ Claim Makes National News
http://wvgazette.com/News/politics/201302280222

 

The Legislature Today: Dr. James Phares
http://www.wvpubcast.org/newsarticle.aspx?id=28906

 

Governor, Teachers Union Primed for Battle Over School Reform
http://www.dailymail.com/News/201302280276

 

Committee Examines Education Reform Bill
http://www.register-herald.com/todaysfrontpage/x36433429/Committee-examines-education-reform-bill

 

Sen. Unger Calls Part of Education Reform Bill ‘Irresponsible”
http://www.wvea.org/News---Events/News-and-Information/Sen--Unger-calls-part-of-education-reform-bill--ir.aspx?feed=wveanews

 

Tomblin’s Teacher Hiring Plan Questioned
http://wvgazette.com/News/201302280202

 

Tomblin Staff, State Superintendent Take Education Bill Questions
http://www.statejournal.com/story/21429100/tomblin-staff-state-superintendent-take-education-bill-questions

 

If Legislators Considering Education Changes Only Knew About Teaching
http://dailymail.com/Opinion/LetterstotheEditor/201302280128

 

Musselman High School DECA Students Recognized for Excellence
http://www.journal-news.net/page/content.detail/id/591582/Musselman-High-School-DECA-students-recognized-for-excellence.html?nav=5006

 

Park Middle Marks Black History Month
http://www.register-herald.com/todaysfrontpage/x986699046/Park-Middle-marks-Black-History-Month

 

Library Could Lose One-Third of Budget
http://www.journal-news.net/page/content.detail/id/591543/Library-could-lose-one-third-of-budget.html?nav=5006

 

WV Jailing More Juveniles, but Lawmakers Working to Change That
http://www.hampshirereview.com/blog/2013/03/01/wv-jailing-more-juveniles-but-lawmakers-working-to-change-that/

 

Youth Program Planned in Upshur
http://www.theintermountain.com/page/content.detail/id/559609/Youth-program-planned-in-Upshur.html?nav=5014

 

North Elementary Students Make WV History Quilt
http://www.wboy.com/story/21429913/north-elementary-students-make-wv-history-quilt

 

Local Students Compete in History Bowl
http://www.wvva.com/story/21428274/2013/02/28/wv-regionla

 

Slick Roads Lead to Wrecks
http://www.theintermountain.com/page/content.detail/id/559605/Slick-roads-lead-to-wrecks.html?nav=5014

 

East Park Elementary School Evacuations Continue|
http://www.wboy.com/story/21429471/east-park-elementary-school-still-facing-carbon-monoxide-problems

 

State Schools Eyeing Cross-District Administration
http://www.dailymail.com/News/201302250221

 

NOTE: The above information was compiled by Galusha West Virginia Department of Education Office of Communication - cgalusha@access.k12.wv.us