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March 7, 2013 - Volume 33 Issue 9

 

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

 

By Jim Wallace

If all goes according to plan – at least the plan of Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale – his committee will finish its work on Gov. Tomblin’s education reform bill, Senate Bill 359, by the end of this week and send it on to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

However, the bill is likely to look different when it comes out of the Education Committee than it did going in. Leaders of unions representing teachers and school service personnel said this week that they had been meeting with members of the governor’s staff, as well as with Plymale, D-Wayne, and Senate Education Vice Chairman Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, to resolve problems they see in the bill.

“I believe that there are many things that we have worked out, I hope, as we move forward,” Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said.

However, the comments Hale and others made about the bill to the Senate Education Committee over almost three hours on Tuesday were aimed at the original version of the bill, because the committee substitute version wasn’t available yet.

Hale said she had hoped the governor’s bill would be based on research to raise academic achievement. The bill has some of that, she said, but you have to go almost to the third section before finding much new language about children.

“You know, it’s gotten to the point now where I think we’re going to get a little down and dirty.” Judy Hale

“You know, it’s gotten to the point now where I think we’re going to get a little down and dirty,” Hale said. “I understand the chamber has put up a Web page against us and putting out information.”

That was a reference to a campaign by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce to support the reform bill. Hale added, “All of a sudden everybody’s an expert on education because they went to school.”

Among the provisions of the bill Hale likes is the expansion of pre-kindergarten to full days. “We all know from research that that’s the best money you can spend in education,” she said.

Other provisions the AFT supports include:

  • The plan to ensure all students can read at grade level by the end of third grade;
  • A loan forgiveness program to help bring new, young teachers into areas of critical needs and shortage areas;
  • More rewards for teacher with national certification; and
  • A career-tech initiative to help students enter the working world.

“But I have to tell you, after these proposals, this bill takes a nose dive. It is full of proposals that are not supported by research or evidence, and it is laced with contradictions.” – Judy Hale

“But I have to tell you, after these proposals, this bill takes a nose dive,” Hale said. “It is full of proposals that are not supported by research or evidence, and it is laced with contradictions. You cannot raise academic achievement by lowering teacher standards. You cannot downsize education bureaucracy by upsizing the bureaucracy in RESAs. You can’t run a better school system if you hire an administrator who has never worked in the field of education. And you cannot expect educators to embrace reform by stripping away their rights and benefits.”

Hale said she was mystified by state Supt. Jim Phares’s comments last week that West Virginia’s current hiring practices aren’t working, because on October 9 – before he was state superintendent – he testified to a legislative interim committee that the hiring practices’ procedure “allows us to hire the most qualified teachers.” She said he also called it a “myth” that seniority was the determining factor when filling vacancies. The problem in student achievement is not because we are not hiring good teachers, Hale said.

Further, she said, more than half of the education efficiency audit that led to the reform bill dealt with bloated bureaucracy, but she said she couldn’t find one sentence about that in the bill. “What I fear is that Dr. Phares may have changed his position on this issue so that we would all get down in the weeds and fight over hiring practices,” she said. “That way, nobody will have time to focus on the primary finding of the education efficiency audit: the bloated bureaucracy and the top-heaviness in his own department.”

Phares later told the Charleston Daily Mail that Hale had mischaracterized his position. He said his position always has been that seniority should be considered in hiring decisions, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the determining factor. He also said he was keeping his focus on improving student achievement.

As part of her presentation, Hale held up graphs showing that the number of students in West Virginia schools increased slightly from 2001 to 2012 while the number of teachers decreased, but the number of administrators and other professional employees increased dramatically. During the same time, she said, the average salary for county superintendents increased 50 percent. She called for driving more money and other resources to the classroom.

In regard to the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), Hale said, the Department of Education can’t downsize by adding employees to the RESAs, which already have 465 employees. Phares has said the department wants to shift 16 employees from Education Department headquarters in Charleston to the eight RESAs, which each one getting two new positions to help decentralize professional development services. Hale said using the statewide mentoring program is a better way to distribute professional education to the local level.

Last week, Hallie Mason, the governor’s policy director, told the committee that constitutional reasons prevented Tomblin from using legislation to address the problem of top-heaviness in the Education Department. Hale said she disagreed with that, because the
Legislature appropriates money for the department, so the budget bill would be a good place to address the top-heaviness.

Many teachers have complained that language in the governor’s bill would take paid holidays away from them. Mason has denied that, and Hale said she doubted Tomblin intended to do that, but she said the language in the bill needs to be clarified.

Another of her concerns is that the bill requires each school to hold only one faculty senate meeting during the year. Hale said some principals might take advantage of that language to call only one faculty senate meeting, instead of several. Likewise, she expressed concern that teachers’ planning periods could be limited to just 30 minutes. Collaboration among faculty is the best way to improve academic achievement in low-performing schools, she said, and she cited a Rand Corporation study that proved that.

Hale said members of the AFT want to have 180 days of school, and they don’t like it that the bill would permit superintendents to allow students to go to Charleston for a full week for the state basketball tournament and have those days count as instructional days.

The union opposes letting the Teach for America program operate in West Virginia. Teach for America recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and rural communities. Hale said the state would be better off using the relatively new Teacher in Residence program to fill shortages.

“We believe there are several sections in this bill that need to be eliminated and several other sections of this bill that need to be rewritten. The governor himself has stated publicly that some sections of the bill were poorly drafted. We believe that some of these poorly drafted sections will result in unintended consequences. In fact, some of them will do just the opposite of what this bill purports to do, which is improve academic achievement.” –Judy Hale

“We believe there are several sections in this bill that need to be eliminated and several other sections of this bill that need to be rewritten,” Hale said. “The governor himself has stated publicly that some sections of the bill were poorly drafted. We believe that some of these poorly drafted sections will result in unintended consequences. In fact, some of them will do just the opposite of what this bill purports to do, which is improve academic achievement.”

 

WVEA leader also criticizes bill.

Like Hale, Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he had hoped the reform bill would focus more on student achievement than it does. He said the WVEA held seven forums across the state to gather teachers’ opinions on the recommendations of the education audit. They know they need to make changes, he said, but not some of the changes in the governor’s bill.

For example, Lee said, they don’t like changing the qualifications for the state superintendent to no longer require a master’s degree in education or experience in public schools. They also disagree with the removal of the salary cap for the state superintendent, he said.

WVEA members agree with the governor on expanding the early childhood program, Lee said, but there could be problems with certification and pay grades for the instructors.

On the school calendar, he said, the goal should be to get 180 days of instruction. But he complained that taking out instructional support and enhancement (ISE) eliminates the opportunity for faculty senates. In addition, Lee said, not defining limits on the calendar in law and requiring that all missed days be made up could lead to unwieldy situations when certain types of disasters hit. His example was flooding that closed school in Gilbert a few years ago.

“If we’re requiring that those kids make up all those days, we would first have to wait until either the building was repaired so that they could get back in the school or wait until school was out in the rest of the county so we could bus those kids to another school in that county,” Lee said. But that could result in a school year that could stretch well into July, he said.

Also, Lee said, letting districts switch to balanced – or year-round – calendars could prevent some teachers and service professionals from holding second jobs.

As Hale did, Lee disagreed with a provision that would allow superintendents to transfer employees at any time of the year without notice or hearing. “I know what your intention was,” he said, but he added that was not the answer.

Likewise, Lee complained about letting Teach for America into the state, because its recruits would get only five weeks of training before going into classrooms. He said West Virginia has better means for alternative certification of teachers. He also said improving teachers’ salaries would help.

“Our problem is not a teacher shortage from our colleges being able to train enough teachers to teach our classes. Our problem is an export problem. Too many of our young teachers are leaving the state.” – Dale Lee

“Our problem is not a teacher shortage from our colleges being able to train enough teachers to teach our classes,” Lee said.

“Our problem is an export problem. Too many of our young teachers are leaving the state.”

Lee disagreed with proposed changes to hiring practices, saying that seniority is not really the main deciding factor as some people have claimed. “No one has yet shown me that the current system does not provide the most qualified person in the classroom,” he said.

Similarly, he disagreed with a provision that a district should be able to post a vacant position more than once to get more qualified candidates. Lee said negotiations with the administration and Senate Education Committee leaders have yielded some progress on that issue, so he hoped that would come out in the committee substitute version of the bill.

“We have to stop blaming the teachers for all the ills in public education,” Lee concluded. Even the best teachers have trouble overcoming the problems of poverty, truancy and substance abuse their students face, he said.

 

Service personnel leader finds flaws in bill.

Jackee Long, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, was similarly critical of the reform bill. She said only about 30 pages of the bill deal with student achievement, while about 140 pages deal with employee take-backs. She said teacher’s aides, many of whom have 20 to 30 years of experience, would be required to have more qualifications than Teach for America instructors.

“My fear is that we’re going to lose intelligent, hard-working, caring aides who will not go back to obtain certification.” – Jackee Long

“My fear is that we’re going to lose intelligent, hard-working, caring aides who will not go back to obtain certification,” Long said. Aides hired before July 1, 2014, should be grandfathered in, she suggested.

Long said the balanced calendar is a big concern for school service personnel, because many have second and even third jobs. She said it could cause some of them to go onto public assistance.

Like Hale and Lee, she disagreed with having RESAs handle more professional development. Long said the RESAs duplicate services the districts provide and charge too much for such services as training bus drivers.

Allowing personnel transfers to be made without hearings or notice could set the education system back in time, she said. But Long said her criticism should not be interpreted as opposing change.

“We do want to reform education,” she said. “We know the system is far from perfect.”

 

RESA leader offers a defense.

After hearing some of the criticisms of RESAs, Nick Zervos, director of RESA 6 in Wheeling, told the senators, “Don’t take point blank information that you get about the RESAs.” He said the RESAs’ budget has been frozen the last six years and also taken cuts, but they are still providing valuable services.

Zervos said the RESAs:

  • Try to be facilitators;
  • Train teachers and service personnel;
  • Handle substitutes for most of the counties; and
  • Have repaired 25,000 computers in the last five years.

But Senate Education Chairman Plymale apparently didn’t appreciate Zervos’s comments, because after he spoke, Plymale advised others waiting to speak, “Please come to speak about the bill. I really don’t want paid service announcements for any group that you all work with.”

 

Business groups like the bill.

Much more supportive comments about Senate Bill 359 came from representatives of the business community.

Jan Vineyard, chairwoman of the West Virginia Business & Industry Council, said that almost 50 business and trade associations support the governor’s bill. For the first time, she said, education is her group’s top legislative issue.

“From where we sit, our education system is failing us. As employers, we cannot find enough educated and trained workers to meet our needs. We want the best possible outcomes for students and to receive the highest return for our education dollars.” – Jan Vineyard

“From where we sit, our education system is failing us,” Vineyard said. “As employers, we cannot find enough educated and trained workers to meet our needs. We want the best possible outcomes for students and to receive the highest return for our education dollars.”

The business people like it that the bill would show students a clear academic and career pathway, integrate technology into the process, require 180 days of instruction, expand early childhood education, require reading at grade level by the end of third grade, expand a community development pilot program for low-income students, and redesign the accreditation system, she said.

Eugenie Taylor of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the bill and countered Hale’s criticism of the chamber.

“We are not anti-teacher,” she said. “This is God’s work as far as I’m concerned.”

Taylor said what the public education system has been doing is not working.

“The bill’s goal, we believe, is to put competent, energetic, enthusiastic teachers in places of high need, places where current certified teachers are not going,” she said. “That is always better than rotating substitutes in and out of a classroom.”

Instead of being harmful to teachers, Taylor said, the bill would give them more say about which job applicants are best suited to teach in their schools. “We trust teachers to be able to make those decisions with their principals and administrators,” she said.

“This bill allows school schedules to be based on county-specific needs,” Taylor said. “That sort of flexibility is very good for our state.”

Another provision she liked was one that would expand a pilot program on Charleston’s West Side that is designed to help some of the students who have the greatest needs in the state. Likewise, she approved of the proposal for high-quality, full-day programs for four-year-olds.

“It is good for children and moves in the direction of allowing teachers to teach.” – Eugenie Taylor

Similarly, Taylor approved of a provision to provide parents with more knowledge about each school’s performance. “This will assist parents in seeking the best school for their child and will help all of us to know which schools need additional attention,” she said.

In addition, Taylor said, requiring 180 days of instruction is good. “We have to set policy that is based on the rule and not the exceptions described in anecdotes from the past,” she said.

In concluding, Taylor said, she has heard a lot of fear of change, which is normal. But she said the bill would help move West Virginia into the 21st century. “It is good for children and moves in the direction of allowing teachers to teach,” she said.

 

Retired teacher wants fewer school boards.

Mary Carden, a teacher for 38 years who is now retired, had a different take on the bill and the problems in West Virginia’s education system. She said one problem is that too many students get grades of A and B and too many get grades of D and E, but not enough in the middle get C’s.

Another problem she cited is that many kids don’t have loving homes. Carden said teachers can’t control what goes on in students’ homes or whether they get enough to eat. “And yet we’re being criticized that we’re the root of all evil when it comes to education, but we have very little to do when it comes to what goes on outside,” she said. “The governor’s education bill, in my opinion from what I read, does very little to accomplish the sweeping changes I see.”

Carden suggested the system has structural problems, but they weren’t the problems others cited.

The governor’s bill just puts Band-Aids on problems instead of making the sweeping changes that are needed, Carden said. County attendance directors need to do their jobs to get kids to school, she said, and police departments need to get drugs off the streets. Another fix that would help, she said, would be more after-school programs for latchkey kids.“We don’t need 55 boards of education,” she said. “We don’t need that. We don’t need county lines that keep us from saving money and transportation costs.”

“The governor’s bill takes away a lot of teachers’ benefits that we fought for, so please reconsider that,” Carden said in the end.  

Elizabeth Mow, a retired Upshur county teacher and legislative chairwoman of the West Virginia Professional Educators, said the bill has many commendable provisions, but her group has concerns about other provisions in it. They include:

  • Changing the planning period to the length of the shortest class period taught: “This recommendation seems counterproductive if the goal is to improve education,” she said. Members of her group want to protect instructional time and have sufficient planning time, which is needed for curriculum and lesson planning, record-keeping, grading, documentation, preparation of classroom materials, collaborating planning, and other tasks.
     
  • Changing the school calendar: It places calendar decisions back in the hands of school boards, which is a step in the right direction, Mow said, but the bill would prescribe what can happen on the 12 to 13 non-instructional days. “This leaves little room for local planning or initiative,” she said. “It should be left up to each county to decide how best this time could be used to fit its own needs.”
     
  • Bringing in Teach for America: Much depends on how it would be administered, which is not spelled out in the bill, Mow said. Her executive board does not want Teach for America people to replace available, qualified West Virginia teachers, she said, but if counties cannot find qualified teachers, there is no reason not to use people from Teach for America.
     
  • Changing rules on transfers, seniority and termination: It would not be fair to allow the superintendent to make transfers or assignments anywhere in a county at any time during a school year without any notice or hearing, Mow said, and changes in the way seniority is considered could open the door to cronyism and nepotism. She said the proposal on terminations could result in an experienced teacher at one school losing a job while a new teacher at another school would not. “Would this really provide the best education for students?” Mow asked.
     
  • Posting openings more than once to attract more qualified applicants: “What is meant by more qualified?” Mow asked. “Somebody’s aunt or cousin?”
     
  • Changing how snow days are handled: Mow asked if that would mean that teachers’ pay would be cut on snow days. She said many teachers live from paycheck to paycheck and could not afford that, especially if more than one snow day would occur in a pay period.

Mow concluded by saying some of the changes could result in a more demoralized workforce.

 

Religious leader sees urgent need for education reform.

The Rev. Matthew Watts, who has been instrumental in setting up the pilot program on Charleston’s West Side that the governor wants to expand, said big changes are needed.

“We got to get education reform done, and we got to get it done this year. We have an opportunity to make history in our state and then set a course for the rest of the nation to follow.” – The Rev. Matthew Watts

“We got to get education reform done, and we got to get it done this year,” he said. “We have an opportunity to make history in our state and then set a course for the rest of the nation to follow.”
 
Watts said the community he serves has fallen on very difficult times. In the last decade, child poverty has increased by 25 percent, and the area has the highest level of violent crime in the state, he said. As a pastor, he has performed more funerals than weddings for young people in the community, which is less than 10 blocks from the Capitol.

On education reform, Watts said, “We want to be ground zero.” He said the West Side has four elementary schools that rank among the bottom five in the state. Only one school in McDowell County ranks lower. He said housing patterns have re-segregated the neighborhood.

Watts said he is encouraged that Tomblin included the pilot program in the reform bill, because the leaders in the program have a strong desire for education reform and seeing that the best teachers are put into the community.

“We believe that this can, indeed, be a game-changer not just for the West Side but for the entire state,” he said. “I’m more encouraged than ever before that education reform can happen in West Virginia without bloodshed.”

Just because reform is complicated doesn’t mean it can’t get done, Watts said.

But he would like one change in the bill. Watts said, as written, the state superintendent can establish the pilot program, but he said the Department of Education also should be given the authority to approve the plan.

After Watts spoke, Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said, “I’m appalled at what I just heard. I’m absolutely appalled, if this is true that four of the lowest-achieving schools are in one neighborhood in Charleston, then I’d certainly like to hear from somebody as to how that’s happened.”

Barnes said the committee should bring in someone from Kanawha County to talk about it. “We can’t come up with a solution until we come up with a reason,” he said.

 

Administration official follows up on some issues.

After the public testimony on the bill, Hallie Mason, the governor’s policy chief, told the committee that some people still have misconceptions about the reforms. For example, she said, it retains seniority in the hiring process but would give teachers more say over who is hires to work with them.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said of the reform process, “This is a journey and not a destination.”

“This bill is not a magic bullet.” – Hallie Mason

Agreeing, Mason said, “This bill is not a magic bullet.” She said reform is a three-pronged approach that includes not just legislation, but also actions by the state school board and the governor. She said Gov. Tomblin would issue some executive orders next week.

Stollings said all the persons who testified brought salient points. “We’re trying to right the ship,” he said. “If we don’t right that ship, we’re in big trouble.”

But Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he was concerned about letting superintendents move teachers in the middle of the school year. “If it is such a good thing to be able to move teachers…why not move principals or assistant principals?” he asked.

Mason said that part of the bill needs clarification. She agreed that students need to have consistency in their teachers. She added, “There is no intention to remove county seniority.”

However, Unger complained that much of the focus of the bill is on teachers even though much of the focus of the education audit focused was on how bloated the Department of Education is. “We have a bloated system that is sucking money out of us, away from the classroom and away from the students,” he said. “And I’m not sure why we’re not talking about the 300-pound gorilla in the room, and we’re looking at focusing in on a small part of it.”

Mason said the governor’s office has been talking with the state board of education about what it can do, and the Department of Education is being cut. She said the administration wants to work cooperatively with the board on that. “There are potential savings in the department to look for,” she said.

But Unger said he would like to see the salaries of people in the department, as well as consultants who work there. He said the state needs to get money down to the child’s level, not at the Department of Education.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Members of the House of Delegates expressed interest in whether the Department of Education is going far enough in trimming its operations when the House Finance and Education committees held a joint budget hearing this week for the department.

As they did last week in a budget hearing held by the Senate Finance Committee, state Supt. Jim Phares and other department leaders said they have been working on many cutbacks and other responses to the education efficiency audit.

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 to provide professional development services around the state.

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

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.

 

Administrative costs concern legislators.

When department officials took questions from delegates, it started out like a math lesson when Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, noted that the education audit ranked West Virginia second in the ratio of staff to students. So he asked how planned cuts would reduce that ratio. Phares cited the state the Department of Administration as a benchmark, saying its administrators make up about 1.9 percent of the workforce. By comparison, he said, the central office staffs in the county school districts average 1.7 percent, and the equivalent for the Department of Education’s headquarters in Building 6 of the Capitol Complex is 0.34.

Phares said the department already has relinquished 12 vacant positions that won’t be filled and will look at 22 other vacancies after the legislative session. Of those, he said, the department wants to send 16 to RESAs and three to the Office for Education Performance Audits to monitor the new school accreditation system. The department is trying to get to a 0.25 percent administration level, which he called “a very drastic cut in our world.”

Espinosa said there still is a perception the department is top-heavy. But Phares pointed out that about 320 department positions are not in Building 6 but are out in institutional programs, such as those for the education of juveniles and adults in detention facilities and prisons. He said he is concentrating on decentralizing what’s in Building 6, where the department has 307 employees.

But Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, asked whether relocating 16 positions to the RESAs would leave them still in the department’s budget.

“The audit did speak of not necessarily downsizing the department as much as right-sizing the department. And one of those efficiency recommendations was to get services more localized to the counties in order to help with efficiencies in the counties.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“The audit did speak of not necessarily downsizing the department as much as right-sizing the department,” Phares responded. “And one of those efficiency recommendations was to get services more localized to the counties in order to help with efficiencies in the counties. The model for professional development delivery has been the drive-in model where they come to Charleston or Morgantown or someplace else. They rent a room. The counties get a substitute. They pay their travel. With this, number one, they won’t be traveling to Charleston and Morgantown. Number two, what we hope to do through the summer is do our Common Core training, and then in the fall, have the specialists at each one of the RESAs to go out and embed the professional development at the school level, so we don’t have to take teacher out their home county.”

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, said he thought the audit called for repositioning $90 million. Phares said it called for saving $90 million over a 10-year period, but that also included cuts in child nutrition money.

When Perry asked why the department wants to send three positions to the Office of Education Performance Audits, Phares said that agency needs to expand under the accreditation proposal for it to look at all schools, not just low-performing schools.

One legislator expressed more interest in the budget request document the department presented to the House and Senate than in its contents.

“I would like to know how much taxpayer money was spent on the preparation of this nice, glossy report,” Delegate Troy Andes, R-Putnam, said. “I am always amazed, especially with the Department of Education, at how we find ways to spend taxpayer funds outside of the classroom.”

Liza Cordeiro, the department’s communications director said the only extra cost was for the paper itself. Phares added that the department does the printing in house. But Andes said that still required the use of taxpayer dollars and wanted the department to reveal the cost.

Although the 18-page pamphlet has a color photo on the front, it is plainer than similar documents the department has provided to legislators in past years.

 

Safety issues dominate SBA budget discussion.

When the House Finance and Education committees held a joint budget hearing for the School Building Authority, many delegates were interested in efforts to improve the safety of schools. As he had done at a meeting last week of the House’s work group on education reform, Mark Manchin, the agency’s executive director, told the two committees about new efforts in improving school safety in the wake of the shootings late last year at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. One solution the SBA is considering is use of a film developed by the 3M Corporation to make windows shatterproof.

But Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Phillips, asked whether repetitive shooting would shatter a window with that film. Manchin said the film could not hold the glass together forever, but it could delay an intruder’s entry into a building long enough for first responders to arrive.

“There’s no building that can be completely secure.” – Mark Manchin

“There’s no building that can be completely secure,” he said. “After repeated shooting, it does weaken at the point of the entry of the bullet, and it eventually, yes, can be kicked in after repeated firing. But again, three to five minutes is what we consider critical.”

Manchin said that would give authorities a chance to engage the shooter before that person could get into the building. “The bullet will penetrate,” he said. “It’s not bulletproof; it’s shatter-resistant, which is a difference. Bulletproof is just simply not feasible to put in all of our schools, but shatter-resistant is.” He added that, as the SBA funds the construction of new schools, it is requiring the sight line from each front office to include the parking lot and the front entry.

But Phillips pressed him on why the SBA is not considering the use of bulletproof glass in entries. Manchin said his agency had not priced bulletproof glass yet, but security experts have told the SBA that shatterproof glass is more cost-effective.

House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, encouraged Manchin to look at bulletproof glass, especially a product called Lexan, which is applied in double layers. She said she learned about it from a maintenance person at a regional jail.

Manchin said the SBA would consider it, but he emphasized that cost is critical, because the agency already is spending $240 per square foot to build schools. Until recently, he said, the SBA hadn’t looked at glass to keep shooters out. 

Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, asked if safety measures for older schools could be improved. Manchin said, “There is a way of retrofitting older schools, and as with anything, the cost is great.” He said it could cost more than $100,000 per school to install the 3M film on the glass at the entry and in ground-floor windows. More than 700 West Virginia schools do not have such protection, he said.

 

Replacement of aging facilities interests other delegates.

Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, expressed concern about more traditional issues of school safety. He said Wayne County has three of the 15 schools with the most critical needs in the state, but voters there recently defeated a bond issue that would have allowed the county to leverage SBA funds to build new facilities. Perdue asked how much money the county would have to come up with to get SBA funds if it would cost $25 million for construction at two schools at Crum and Ceredo-Kenova.

“We like the counties to be partners with us. Our money is finite.” – Mark Manchin

“We like the counties to be partners with us,” Manchin responded. “Our money is finite.” Saying the SBA must make its funds go as far as possible, he noted that the agency now has about $180 million of requests but only about $40 million to distribute. That means $140 million of schools will not get built, and some of them have critical needs, he said.

The agency’s highest priority is the safety of children, Manchin said, and second is the effective and efficient use of funds. He said estimates are it would cost $30 million to $32 million for new schools at Ceredo-Kenova and Crum, and that would take most of the money the SBA has to distribute.

Manchin said a county gets more favorable consideration if it approves a bond issue or a levy for construction funds. Wayne County would have gotten $19 million from the SBA if it had passed its bond issue, he said, and Lincoln County would have gotten $17 million if it had passed its bond issue. He added that Berkeley County got $25 million and Hardy County got $19 million when they passed bond issues.

If a county generates 60 percent of the costs of a project, it gets the maximum amount of points from the SBA, Manchin said, and counties that generate less get fewer points. But he added that the agency recognizes the financial problems of small, rural counties. He said, “The question is: Why should the state fund a county that’s not willing to help themselves?”

Perdue asked what the SBA would do if a school like the one in Crum were closed for public health reasons. Manchin said the SBA has emergency funds that can be used if a school is closed for an emergency, but those funds are not nearly enough. When the Ceredo-Kenova school was damaged by a sinkhole, he said, the SBA provided $2 million for temporary classroom units, but the agency would be hard-pressed to do that now.

“Because of the emergencies throughout the state, we have less than $1 million in emergency funds,” Manchin said. If a big problem came up, he said, the agency would work closely with a county and participate with what funds are available. If the emergency is extensive, the SBA might ask the Legislature for help, he said.

But Perdue called the situation at Crum “worse than critical. I’m very concerned that it may be closed.” In Kenova, the school can’t continue using the temporary facilities, he said. Manchin said he has visited both communities, so he is aware of the problems. “I can envision within 36 months kids being in a new school in either one of those two communities,” he said without further explanation.

 

Levies could be substitutes for bond issues.

Delegate Guthrie asked if the state could do something to help counties where residents don’t think they can spend more in property taxes. Manchin said a county’s use of private capital is a possibility, but it must be paid back. He said the SBA is asking counties to consider including capital improvements in levies, which are more likely to pass than bond issues. He said Marshall County just did it; it got private capital and is paying it back with levy funds.

Delegate Kevin Craig, D-Cabell, asked where counties like Wayne and Lincoln that have rejected bond issues stand with the SBA. Manchin said, “We’re not going to step away because the adults in that county have said no.” Every year, the SBA starts anew considering projects, he said.

“The School Building Authority has never turned its back on a county that has passed a bond – never. It’s almost an assurance that if you pass a bond to address your needs in your county that when you come to us we’ll provide you the remainder of the funds.” – Mark Manchin 

“The School Building Authority has never turned its back on a county that has passed a bond – never,” Manchin said. “It’s almost an assurance that if you pass a bond to address your needs in your county that when you come to us we’ll provide you the remainder of the funds.”

However, he added, “We don’t believe that we should penalize the children because the adults have said no, but we’re also very cognizant of when they fail a bond that we can’t go back in and say, ‘OK, now we’re going to give you the same amount of money for the same projects.’”

Delegate Poling asked whether the SBA considers income and housing values in counties when evaluating their requests. Manchin said the agency recognizes small, rural counties have less ability to raise funds than more populous counties. He said that’s why the SBA is encouraging counties to consider using levy funds as well as bond issues.

 

Technology and environmental design also are issues.

Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, said the education efficiency audit recommended the SBA should have the ability to fund technology within existing schools and new schools, so he asked for the agency’s position on that. Manchin said the SBA is funding wiring as it builds new schools, but the cost of wiring in older buildings is prohibitive. He said the agency would “be very amenable” to doing more if the Legislature would direct it to do so. “To retro would be problematic but not impossible,” he added.

Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, asked whether students benefit from having LEED-certified buildings. LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is a series of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance, environmentally friendly buildings. Manchin replied that the benefits are monetary in terms of the efficiency of a building. Ultimately, the children would benefit if a school district could save money and put more into the classrooms, he said.

The first LEED-certified school building in West Virginia is Spring Mills Primary School in Berkeley County, which is now open. Manchin said two more are being built, and the SBA expects them to save 40 percent in energy costs over 10 years.

Delegate Espinosa expressed concern about the SBA’s source of funding – lottery revenues – now that gambling venues in neighboring states are causing lottery revenues to decline in West Virginia. Manchin said he had spoken with John Musgrave, director of the Lottery Commission, about that. He said the $18 million the SBA gets from regular lottery and the $19 million it gets from excess lottery have been accounted for. The SBA is second in priority for funding from lottery revenues after senior programs.

“We feel confident what we have now is solid,” Manchin said. “Any additional funds would be tenuous.”

Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, asked if it would it be possible for the SBA to come up with a few standard plans for schools that could be used around the state, adjusted to size, so each new school doesn’t need a different plan. He said that could save money in architectural fees.

Manchin said he discussed that several years ago with his cousin, Joe Manchin, who was then governor, and Earl Ray Tomblin, who was then president of the Senate. Since then, the SBA has considered using prototypes. He said the best way to reduce construction costs is to have no surprises for contractors.

For more on the formal budget presentations Phares and Manchin gave to legislators, see the story about the Senate Finance Committee’s budget hearings in the March 1 issue of The Legislature.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee approved two bills this week and established a subcommittee to work on another bill.

One bill the committee approved was House Bill 2727, which was proposed by Gov. Tomblin and would give districts fewer options for saving money by using alternative fuels in school buses. Basically, it would eliminate the use of biodiesel and would restrict the additional percentage allowance for school buses to those using compressed natural gas or propane as an alternative fuel. 

The committee amended the bill so that districts would not be cut off from using biodiesel right away, but its use would be phased out. The amendment would allow biodiesel to qualify as an alternative fuel and get the full 10 percent credit for now, but that credit would be reduced by one percentage point per year beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

Legislative staff attorney Dave Mohr explained that school buses are on a 12-year replacement cycle, so the amendment would allow districts to phase out the biodiesel buses as they buy new buses. He said the fiscal note on the bill indicates about $4 million would be saved from elimination of biodiesel.

The bill also would reduce the cap on the foundation allowance for Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) by 7.5 percent, which reflects the budget cuts Gov. Tomblin requested most state agencies to make. Delegate Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, noted that the Department of Education plans to reallocate 16 staff members from the department’s headquarters to the RESAs for professional development services, so he asked how the budget cut in the bill would affect that. Chuck Heinlein, a deputy superintendent in the department, said resources from the department are to be allocated to the RESAs to allow them to hire the personnel. He said those resources would come from retirements at the department, and each RESA would get two people.

House Bill 2727 now goes to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

The other bill the committee approved was House Bill 2764, which would extend to assistance attendance directors some additional authority and duties that are limited now to attendance directors. Mohr explained it would fix a glitch in statute for large districts that have assistant directors, and there would be no cost.

Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, is the lead sponsor on the bill. She said the Association of Attendance Directors brought the issue to the attention of legislators. She said it’s timely with a lot of attention on truancy problems right now.

“I think it’s very important that we give counties with such a large load in dealing with students the powers and the authority to do what’s right.” – Delegate Tiffany Lawrence

“I think it’s very important that we give counties with such a large load in dealing with students the powers and the authority to do what’s right,” she said.

Before approving the bill, the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason. It dropped language about correcting attitudes of parents and students that result in school absences to “encourage the attendance of students and to impart upon the parents and guardians the importance of attendance and the seriousness of failing to do so.”

Butler said, “I don’t think this changes the intent at all. I think it’s just a more respectful way to approach the parents and guardians. I also think it would be good to kind of set a tone for this committee considering all things we have coming up.”

House Bill 2764 now goes to the full House of Delegates for approval.

 

Other bills goes to subcommittee.

Committee Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, also set up a subcommittee, led by Delegate Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, to work on House Bill 2470, which is sponsored by Poling. Other members are: Lawrence; Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel; Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire; and Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh.

The purpose of the bill is to provide sign support specialists or educational sign language interpreters in the education of some children. It also would address school service personnel, service personnel classification, compensation and duties. The bill would specify employment duties for certain positions, modify certain service personnel classification titles, establish certain service personnel classification titles and set their wages. In addition, the bill would establish conditions for employer payment of and continuing education credit accrual for certain certification acquisition.

 

 

By Jim Wallace
           
Leaders of Reconnecting McDowell, a group working to revitalize the schools, economy and community life of McDowell County, hope to present a plan for a series of community schools to the state school board next month.

Bob Brown, who is working fulltime now on Reconnecting McDowell for the American Federation of Teachers, said that template for community schools will be the first part of a larger template for revitalizing economically depressed areas like McDowell County. He told the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty this week that the project could have a big effect on education in West Virginia.

“The children that we teach today come to school with issues that we couldn’t even dream about three or four or 20 years ago. We’re dealing with issues of acute poverty in pockets of West Virginia.” – Bob Brown

“The children that we teach today come to school with issues that we couldn’t even dream about three or four or 20 years ago,” Brown said. “We’re dealing with issues of acute poverty in pockets of West Virginia.”

Those issues include hunger. Brown said he was shocked to learn how many students in the county don’t get hot meals outside of school. “They come to school with all sorts of social and emotional problems that are foreign to someone my age,” he said. One step the project already has taken is to establish an after-school feeding program for children. Brown said that if schools are to educate those children and prepare them for the future, the community also must deal with the other issues they face in their lives.

“We hope that we can create a model that can be replicated not just in West Virginia but perhaps all over the country,” he said.

Over several decades, more than one billion tons of coal was extracted from McDowell County, Brown said, but those coal seams are nearly depleted, and after the coal was removed, the county’s economy collapsed.

“Left behind were no highways and no sewer systems and no public water systems and no decent housing and no recreation for the citizens of McDowell County,” he said. “The economy fell so hard that, since 1965, the population of McDowell County has declined from 125,000 – a proud, working-class community – to today it’s just a little over 22,000 people living in McDowell County, many of them broken and hopeless. And with the collapse of the county, the school system collapsed as well.”

The AFT got involved a few years ago in trying to help McDowell County and create a model for helping similarly stricken areas. Brown said he put together a white paper on the county’s problems and was shocked by the statistics. He said the union gathered together many partners, asked them for commitments of at least five years and put together a 501(c)(3) organization. The organization also engaged local leaders and residents, he said.

Reconnecting McDowell now has 110 partners that range from Fortune 500 companies like Cisco to small nonprofit organizations, Brown said. The organization has seven subcommittees that meet monthly on:

  • Early childhood education;
  • K-12 education;
  • College and career pathways;
  • Jobs and the economy;
  • Health, emotional and wraparound services;
  • Infrastructure; and
  • Technology.

The initiative has caught national attention, which Brown said is gratifying, but much work still must be done “down in the trenches.” He said the Legislature helped last year with Senate Bill 371 to create a countywide collaborative Innovation Zone to “allow us to do things in the educational system to think outside the box.” He said he has been working closely with McDowell County Supt. Nelson Spencer, and they intend to present a plan to the state school board and legislators to create a system of community schools. In addition to educating students, the schools would have health clinics, dental clinics and perhaps social services.

“We believe that the community there deserves a second chance, and the children there deserve a second chance,” Brown said.

As an example of the problems in the county, Brown said, he was in War two weeks ago and ran into a family of a father, mother, a second-grader and a younger child living in a 10-foot-by-10-foot storage building heated by a kerosene heater. Their toilet was a drywall bucket. “That second-grader cannot compete with second-graders coming from an affluent community here in Kanawha County,” he said. “We have to find a way to deal with the issues that that child comes to school with – poverty, hunger.”

Brown said about 72 percent of students live in homes without working adults and 46 percent live in homes without biological parents. “McDowell leads the state in teenage pregnancy and West Virginia leads the nation,” he said. In addition, it has among the highest truancy and dropout rates, and the county is averaging 12 deaths a month from prescription drug overdoses. But Brown said the death rate probably is higher than that, because some deaths are listed as having other causes.

 

Senators support the effort.

The committee’s chairman, Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said, “I think this project gives hope, and there are other pockets all through West Virginia similar to McDowell, and I think this could really help us.” Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said he was “flabbergasted” by the high number of students living in homes without working adults.

Asked if McDowell County residents have bought into the project, Brown said organizers began by engaging the residents. He said the have found 146 churches that are doing incredible community work.

Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said that McDowell County used to be a thriving place, but no one planned for what to do after the coal was mined out. He said the county needs a long-term economic plan, and the proposed Interstate 73/74 could help. Brown said Reconnecting McDowell is working closely with the Rahall Transportation Institute on transportation improvements.

“Interestingly, there is not one foot of four-lane, divided highway anywhere in McDowell County – not one foot,” he said. The county will never again have 70,000 coal mining jobs, Brown said, so the economy must be diversified.

One means of diversifying the economy is by providing better Internet connections. He said all the schools now have improved bandwidth and all 10,000 homes are being wired for broadband. Many people there who had Internet access were still using dialup connections, he said.

“We believe that will open up a lot of opportunities as well,” Brown said. “You can actually work in New York City today without living in New York City if you have good, high-speed Internet access.”

“This needs to really be, in my mind, a wakeup call for the entire coalfields of southern West Virginia. We do not want to be reconnecting Mingo, Logan, Boone [counties] because we’re not diversifying yet.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

Stollings said about McDowell County’s plight, “This needs to really be, in my mind, a wakeup call for the entire coalfields of southern West Virginia. We do not want to be reconnecting Mingo, Logan, Boone [counties] because we’re not diversifying yet.” He said the region needs plans for infrastructure projects, post-mine land use and getting people out of flood plains.”

Brown said any revitalization plans must deal with all the issues students are dealing with outside of school. If that’s not done, he said, the troubled communities could hire the best teachers and still not make much of a difference in education and moving the population forward.

Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, said, “I think the real value of this process may be the ability to replicate what’s occurring there.” He said he could see similarities in the communities in his home county.

Brown said Reconnecting McDowell soon will have a template for dealing with the schools. He said a proposal should be ready by April to present to the state school board for creating a system of community schools. His long-term goal is to create a larger template in which everything is interconnected. He said a Cisco official wants a model that can be replicated around the world.

Unger said Reconnecting McDowell’s work fits well with those of his committee, which is trying to look at issues from a holistic standpoint. Later this year, he said, he hopes the committee will be able to visit McDowell County.

 


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

W. Va. Unveils New Online Educational Tool
http://www.wvva.com/story/21544622/2013/03/07/wva-unveils-new-online-educational-tool

Unions Outline Their Objections to Governor’s Reform Plan
http://www.wchstv.com/newsroom/eyewitness/130306_14390.shtml

School Reform: Actual Results?
http://wvgazette.com/Opinion/Editorials/201303060088

Schools Bill Doesn’t Add Up for Education Lobby
http://spiritofjefferson.com/blog/2013/03/schools-bill-doesnt-add-up-for-education-lobby/

Education Bill Expected from Senate Committee
http://www.wvpubcast.org/newsarticle.aspx?id=28992

AFT-WV Cites Teacher Vs. Admin Figures in Debate Over Ed Bill; Labor Groups Join Their Cause
http://www.wchstv.com/newsroom/wv/201303062331_10ebfdd.shtml

Education Bill Doesn’t Tackle ‘Bloated Bureaucracy,’ Union Says
http://wvgazette.com/News/201303060101

W. Va. Schools are Failing Too Many Kids
http://dailymail.com/Opinion/Editorials/201303060205

Library Funding Decision Delayed
http://www.theintelligencer.net/page/content.detail/id/582204/Library-Funding-Decision-Delayed.html?nav=515

Decision Concerns Library’s Director
http://www.herald-dispatch.com/news/x2070319803/Decision-concerns-librarys-director

Three-Year Improvement Plan Unveiled
http://www.fayettetribune.com/local/x657747732/Three-year-improvement-plan-unveiled

Speaker Shares Message of Hope
http://www.herald-dispatch.com/x2070319799/National-speaker-shares-message-of-hope-to-students

Bomb Threat Disrupts School in Wirt County
http://www.newsandsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/571550/Bomb-threat-disrupts-school-in-Wirt-County.html?nav=5061

Winter Storm Edges Past Mid-Ohio Valley Closing Wood County Schools
http://www.newsandsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/571569/Winter-storm-edges-past-Mid-Ohio-Valley.html?nav=5061

Lincoln County Teacher Yet to Testify 13 Hours into Hearing
http://lincolnjournalinc.com/teacher-yet-to-testify-hours-into-hearing-p9634-1.htm

Greenwood Elementary in Morgan County Wants Flashing Lights for Safety
http://morganmessenger.com/news/content/story-10874

Bridge Program Assists Students in Transition to College
http://www.marshallparthenon.com/bridge-program-assists-students-in-transition-to-college-1.2815261#.UTji2qJ33To

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