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April 5, 2013 - Volume 33 Issue 17

 

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

 


By Jim Wallace

The spirit of one legislative bill lives on, even though the bill itself died in committee.

The purpose of Senate Bill 404 was to clarify that a child who is physically healthy and presumed safe is a neglected child if he or she is habitually absent from school without good cause, although home-school children would have been exempt. It received the approval of the Senate Education Committee and the Judiciary Committee but died in the Finance Committee after a fiscal note from the Department of Health and Human Resources estimated it would cost about $57 million. That was because DHHR figured the Bureau for Children and Families would have to hire an additional 1,003 workers and supervisors, and they would need office space and equipment.

But shortly after the bill met its demise, Rocco Fucillo, acting secretary of DHHR, took action to carry out through administrative policy what the bill sought to do. On March 25, he sent a memorandum to Doug Robinson, commissioner of the Bureau for Children and Families. It included this order:

“In an effort to break the pattern of habitual absenteeism and the negative consequences that follow for some of our state’s younger children, I direct that child protective services take concerted action in investigating and assessing educational neglect with respect to referrals made regarding children who are 11 years old or younger and who have 10 or more unexcused absences.” – Rocco Fucillo

“In an effort to break the pattern of habitual absenteeism and the negative consequences that follow for some of our state’s younger children, I direct that child protective services take concerted action in investigating and assessing educational neglect with respect to referrals made regarding children who are 11 years old or younger and who have 10 or more unexcused absences. Child protective services should always assess school intervention efforts and whether those efforts were unsuccessful due to the parents’ refusal to cooperate.”

On Thursday, Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, endorsed that effort. “This is the best policy,” he said. “It is better than a bill by getting this cooperation and the work done between DHHR and the judicial system.”

Plymale said Circuit Judge Alan Moats, who serves Taylor and Barbour counties and has been active in anti-truancy efforts, also supports Fucillo’s action, and so does Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire. Cookman is a retired judge and was the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 404.

Fucillo told the Senate Education Committee that truancy is a big problem in West Virginia, and one of his biggest goals is to reduce it. He said the most important action the state can take is to encourage truancy diversion:  trying to address the problems children face at young ages and keeping them from being truants. He said his department wants to get them the help they need by age 11 before they reach the critical years of middle school in the hopes of keeping many of them out of the juvenile justice system altogether.

The effort is important, Fucillo said, for three reasons:

  • The development of the child. “We know all the statistics that show a truant can lead to the gateway to other bad behaviors,” he said.
  • The economic development of the state. “As we age out as a state, we need to have as many responsible adults as we can to be in the workforce,” Fucillo said.
  • Saving state money. “If they stay in school, they’re less likely to become juvenile delinquents, go into the state penal system, become substance abusers and all those sorts of things,” he said.

“We’re going to hone in specifically on those with 10 or more unexcused absences as a significant benchmark,” Fucillo said. Those are the years when parents still control whether students go to school, he said, and when kids get older, what parents can do becomes more limited.

“At a minimum, we look to see how they behave in school, the interaction with the school, the things that schools have attempted to do with the children before coming to us,” Fucillo. If nothing else, he said, the effort will open up those children and their families to services that DHHR can offer. He said some single parents who work are not home to wake their children up. In other cases, the children have behavioral problems, which referrals to behavioral services can address.

“I feel very confident that this will make a significant impact, and as we move forward in implementation of this policy, we’ll see a reduction in truancy as the years go on, because if we’re reaching those children between ages of five and 11, there should be less of those becoming teenagers that are truant.” – Rocco Fucillo

“I feel very confident that this will make a significant impact, and as we move forward in implementation of this policy, we’ll see a reduction in truancy as the years go on, because if we’re reaching those children between ages of five and 11, there should be less of those becoming teenagers that are truant,” Fucillo said.

In response to questions, he said the department expects to get most referrals from school attendance officers, but anyone can make a referral. Fucillo said he wasn’t sure how many to expect. “Whatever those numbers are, it’s a more manageable group that we can recognize,” he said. “I think by looking at this particular population, it’s the one we need to be attacking.”

Plymale said an important aspect of the effort is that it has “the complete buy-in of the judicial system.”

Fucillo said about the children who will be targeted, “If you create the right habits where they don’t even know what it is to be truant, then hopefully they never will become [truant].”

 

 

By Jim Wallace

A little more than one week is left in the Legislature’s 60-day regular session, but the fate of many bills already has been decided. Wednesday was “Crossover Day,” the last day for the Senate to consider bills it originated and the House of Delegates to consider bills it originated.

There is an exception for budget and supplemental appropriation bills, but otherwise, any bill that did not cross over from one house to the other by the end of the day on Wednesday is dead for this session. However, plenty of bills affecting public education did make the cut and are still under consideration.

Bills approved by the House of Delegates this week include:

  • House Bill 2940, which would require regional meetings among certain officials of county boards of education every two years. The bill was requested by the West Virginia School Board Association. The House approved it on a vote of 95-0 with five members absent. It was at the stage of having the first of three required readings on the Senate floor without moving forward to second reading on both Wednesday and Thursday, but that could be just a procedural issue and not necessarily an indication that the Senate has any problem with the bill.
     
  • House Bill 3159, which would grant Innovation Zone waivers from state law for two school districts. Monroe County schools would be allowed to raise the compulsory attendance age to 18. Nicholas County schools would be allowed to permit up to two unexcused absences per semester on regulation instructional days to be erased from a student’s attendance record by completing the county’s Saturday instruction program. The House approved the bill on a vote of 94-3 with three members absent. On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee approved the bill.
     
  • House Bill 2727, which would make changes in the School Aid Formula. As Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, explained it to his colleagues, “This bill would amend two areas of the funding formula by which public school support is calculated: one regarding incentives for county boards that use an alternative fuel for school bus systems and the other regarding the cap on the annual allowance for Regional Educational Service Agencies, which are normally called RESAs.” He said an amendment to the bill would provide that the incentive for using alternative fuels in a county board’s buses is limited to the use of compressed natural gas. Propane would be deleted as a qualifying alternative fuel, he said, and biodiesel would be phased out one percentage point per year. The bill also would retain the 7.5 percent reduction in the cap on RESAs that resulted from the spending cutbacks ordered by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The House approved the bill on a 94-5 vote with one member absent.
     
  • House Bill 3160, which would provide for a pilot initiative on governance of schools jointly established by adjoining counties. Although it would maintain the current funding, administrative functions and employer roles of the county in which the school is physically located, it would allow creation of a joint board for the school comprised of the superintendents and presidents or designees of the respective boards and a designee of the state superintendent that would have school-level powers for personnel, curriculum, finance and facilities to help make the school more responsive to the needs of students and parents in both counties. It also would provide for the expansion of the local school improvement council to allow input from the parents and at-large members from both counties. For a county that sends students to a jointly established school in another county and provides transportation or other services for those students, there would be a net enrollment adjustment of 15 percent for fulltime equivalent students sent. The House approved the bill on a 99-0 vote with one member absent.
     
  • House Bill 2265, which would require public, private, parochial and church schools to include sports injury protocols in their crisis response plans. The bill would require the state school board to promulgate a legislative rule incorporating protocols for sports injuries that occur on school property. The House approved the bill on a 97-0 vote with three members absent.
     
  • House Bill 2548, which would increase the criminal penalties for assaults and batteries against athletic officials. The House approved in on a vote of 94-5 with one member absent.
     
  • House Bill 2470, which would provide a sign support specialist or an educational sign language interpreter in the education of exceptional children. As House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, said, “The purpose of this bill is to address the severe shortage we have in this state for sign language interpreters in our West Virginia schools. The bill establishes statutory classifications and pay grades for service personnel who provide these services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The bill also provides an achievable pathway for current service personnel to become qualified, certified educational sign language interpreters. Guidelines are set forth for appropriately assigning personnel for students’ needs with limited exceptions allowed when a qualified individual is not available. Also, the bill corrects a code conflict in the pay grade for a newly created early childhood assistant teacher paraprofessional certificate, as was designated in Senate Bill 359 [the big education reform bill].” The House vote to approve the bill was 98-0 with two members absent.
     
  • House Bill 3157, which would repeal numerous outdated, overly prescriptive or ineffective sections of code. It would direct the state school board to report a method for accountability and supervision that does not interfere with school and county strategic planning, to provide clear and consistent expectations for student learning for a reasonable period, to ensure adequate flexibility and resources for school and school system professional development to address needs identified by evaluations and strategic plans, and to evaluate its performance and progress on the goals. The state board would have to report to a legislative committee on all that. In addition, the bill would eliminate state board approval of county strategic plans for instructional improvement and technology under Step 7 of the School Aid Formula, shift by 5 percent the growth in local share to the technology portion of the allocation, and distribute the technology allocation to counties using a base-plus-net enrollment formula similar to the formula for the distribution of instructional improvement funds.

Before the House approved the last bill, delegates approved an amendment from House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and Poling. Armstead said the amendment would direct the Department of Education to look at various reports and other paperwork that principals and teachers are required to file to determine which of them could be eliminated. He said he visited a principal who rolled out a two-drawer filing cabinet containing all the reports he and his teachers must do each year and wondered if anyone looked at them after they were filed.

Poling added, “Anything that frees up principals and teachers to do what their jobs entail, and that is improve students’ learning, would be important. We hope that is the result of this amendment.”

“This bill repeals 26 outdated, overly prescriptive or ineffective sections of code. The bill received strong, bipartisan support in the Committee on Education, and I think it will go a long way to restore the authority, flexibility and capacity of schools and school systems to improve student learning.” – Delegate Mary Poling

On the bill as a whole, she said, it has six provisions that would continue the process of removing excess regulatory compliance and moving educational decision-making down to the level closest to the students. “This bill includes incentives for counties to participate in circuit court juvenile probation programs,” she said. “This bill repeals 26 outdated, overly prescriptive or ineffective sections of code. The bill received strong, bipartisan support in the Committee on Education, and I think it will go a long way to restore the authority, flexibility and capacity of schools and school systems to improve student learning.”

The final House vote on the bill was 97-0 with three members absent.

 

Senate bills get attention from House.

After the House finished work on its own bills, delegates worked on Senate-passed bills. The House approved on a 96-0 vote with four members absent Senate Bill 430, which deals with the Teachers’ Defined Contribution Retirement System. It would add a definition of “employment term,” add a new section relating to correction of errors and make a technical correction.

Another Senate-passed bill got through two of its three required readings in the House, meaning it could pass as early as today. Senate Bill 421 would provide an exemption for the official mascot of Parkersburg South High School, commonly known as “The Patriot,” which would allow the mascot to carry a musket on school grounds when the mascot is acting in his or her official capacity. It’s the same exemption that is granted to the West Virginia University Mountaineer.

When the bill was up for passage in the Senate earlier in the week, the lead sponsor, Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said, “The Patriot mascot and the replica Revolutionary period musket have been a tradition at Parkersburg South for nearly a half century, and I think it’s appropriate at this time, when this session has been dedicated so much to bettering and enhancing the education system that we look at programs like this who bring students, their parents and the faculty all together to participate in competitive events and school events. I look at the state motto of this great state of West Virginia that ‘Mountaineers are always free,’ and I believe with that also should be the Patriot – the symbol of the Revolutionary War, the founding of America – that they should always be free in the great state of West Virginia. Passing this bill will make that this musket will never be silenced again.” The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 33-0 with one member absent.

Yet another bill from the Senate got the approval of the House Education Committee on Thursday. Senate Bill 80 would include substitute teaching on at least three instructional days each school year as a job duty of certain professional educators employed in school districts’ central offices.

Delegate Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, asked if there would be any repercussions if a district would not do that. Dave Mohr, an attorney for the committee, replied, “This bill says it’s in their job descriptions, so if they get called, they got to go.”

Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, asked whether the purpose of the bill was to cut down on the costs of substitutes or to get the central office people back into classrooms. Mohr said he had spoken with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel. “His initial concept, I think, was to get some interaction with central office people in what they’re finding in the classroom,” Mohr said. “It does have the added effect of cutting down on some of the substitute costs using already-paid people to do some of that.”

Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, said the Preston County schools used administrators as substitutes when he served on the school board there. “It does have the advantage of what’s already been discussed,” he said. “The side effect is it does save a little money, but that wasn’t the main reason. The main reason was to keep the central office aware of where the rubber meets the road.” Williams added, “It proved to be really good. Even the superintendent went ahead and did it voluntarily.”

Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel, works as a teacher and said he favored the bill. “On many days at our school, there’s been positions that were open,” he said. “I know I covered, and I certainly don’t have a problem with that, because I have a good relationship with my principal. But if this bill passes, if we still have positions that are open, I know there’s people within the county office that could help fill those positions.”

But Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, had misgivings about the bill, especially after Mohr told him that nothing in current law precludes administrators from serving as substitutes.

“I appreciate the goal of this and some of the benefits that would accrue from this,” Espinosa said. “I guess I would oppose this legislation just because I would prefer that it be left up to the local school districts. If they feel that they have adequate staffing to utilize their staff in this regard, certainly they can do so. If they don’t feel that that’s the wisest use of their resources, then not. I fully support having the administrative personnel out in the schools, because obviously that is where there are going to be able to have the greatest impact on what’s happening in the school system. But I think to require them to do this goes against some of the positive steps I think we’ve taken during this session to decentralize these types of decisions.”

“I believe bringing people out of the central office would add a lot to the functioning and capability of the school system.” – Delegate Roy Cooper

But Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said he supported the bill. “So many times in school systems, the people in the central office don’t have a clue about what’s going on in the schools,” he said. “If you stick one of them in that school building for a day or two for just one day a month, it’s going to change some attitudes about what goes on in those schools and some of those unique problems that might be unique to this or that school.” He said he had worked in a school where the principal always was willing to fill in. “I believe bringing people out of the central office would add a lot to the functioning and capability of the school system,” Cooper said.

The Education Committee’s approval of Senate Bill 80 has set it up for the first of its three required readings in the House today.

 

Other bills get through the Senate.

In addition to Senate Bill 421, mentioned above, the Senate approved two other education-related bills this week. One was Senate Bill 623, which would allow certain funding for the support of children with high acuity needs to also be used to fund probation officers needed to address truancy.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the bill resulted after Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn of Mercer County brought an issue to him and Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo. He said Aboulhosn has a very successful truancy prevention program that uses a probation officer, but the funding for that position was threatened with being cut. “This simply allows the funding for high-acuity needs – we add the funding for probation officer positions,” Plymale said. “This is a funding stream that’s already at the Department of Education. It would just allow that probation officers could be used for this purpose.”

The Senate approved the bill on a 33-0 vote with one member absent.

The other bill the Senate approved already had been approved by the House. House Bill 2800 would deal with the Teachers Retirement System. It would do a number of things including specifying the time period for allocating and reporting gross salary to the retirement board, adding the term “nonteachers” to the definition of “present member,” and adding a definition for the terms “retire” and “retirement.” The Consolidated Public Retirement Board recommended the bill. Senate Pensions Chairman Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, explained that the “nonteachers” in the bill are school service personnel. The Senate approved the bill on a 33-0 vote with one member absent.

Another House bill has received the approval of the Senate Education Committee. House Bill 2729 would allow epinephrine auto-injectors to be maintained in schools for emergency treatment administration during anaphylactic reactions.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said, “It makes perfect common sense to have these things going at a school. Why is it we need a bill for common sense?”

Hank Hagar, an attorney for the committee, said it would focus attention on the issue and would allow physicians to establish protocols. A physician on the committee, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said, a student who needed an epinephrine auto-injector might not have one available when needed. “Anyone that I’ve written a prescription for can do it themselves,” he said. “A seven-year-old can auto-inject…. Having this more available is good.”

Sen. Edgell said that, when he was teaching, all the teachers were trained how to use the auto-injectors when they had a student who might need one. “It gives the counties and the schools more ways to handle it,” he said.

House Bill 2729 was scheduled to be on first reading in the Senate today.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Much has been written and said about Senate Bill 359, the big education reform bill the Legislature passed last month, but two legislators have provided some insight into the process leading to passage of the bill and the repercussions from it.

Sen. Ron Stollings and Delegate Don Perdue are chairmen of the Senate and House committees that deal with health care issues, so health care was mainly what they talked about when they addressed a breakfast meeting of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. But they also spoke about education reform.

“I’m very glad Senate Bill 359 passed. I’ve been beaten up pretty hard. I’ve had people I’ve grown up with that won’t speak to me – graduates of Scott High School Class of ’73 that I thought would be buddies the rest of our lives. And because I voted for the Senate education bill, they won’t speak to me.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

“I’m very glad Senate Bill 359 passed,” Stollings, D-Boone, said. “I’ve been beaten up pretty hard. I’ve had people I’ve grown up with that won’t speak to me – graduates of Scott High School Class of ’73 that I thought would be buddies the rest of our lives. And because I voted for the Senate education bill, they won’t speak to me. I said, ‘Look, this is a process. It’s tough duty.’ And yet, I’ll proudly say, ‘Yeah, I voted for it, and I think it’s a great thing. And I hope you’ll reconsider your attitude toward me.’ That’s all I can do.”

Much of what was included in the education reform bill stemmed from an efficiency audit conducted of the public education system by Public Works, LLC, and others. Stollings noted that Public Works also has done an audit of health and human resources, which he is looking forward to seeing. He hopes it will result in the establishment of an Office of Actuarial Studies, which he has been promoting for some time. He said that, if the state had its own actuaries, they could show legislators and the administration how to spend state money more wisely.

Steve Roberts, president of the chamber, asked Stollings and Perdue to address the misconceptions that sprung up about Senate Bill 359. He said the chamber received many calls from people with such misconceptions. “They had been told by people they believed that there were things in that bill that were not there,” he said. Roberts added that one union had told teachers to call him personally.

Perdue agreed that a lot of “misinformation and disinformation” circulated around the bill. Although the bill originated in the Senate and was amended there before moving quickly through the House, he said, the House worked with the Senate on it throughout the process. “Everybody was there at the table working on the bill,” he said.

One aspect of the bill that Perdue likes is that it should give local school officials more ability to assess their performance and improve it. “It’s not as big as we’d like it to be, but there was nothing there before,” he said. “Now we’ve got something here that will allow principals and local school authorities to have more influence on their schools. So that’s a great thing.”

Something that came out late in the process for legislators was that West Virginia’s public education system has a lot of administrators for the number of students. “That really was revelatory,” Perdue said, and he added it was good that problem was exposed.

Stollings praised Gov. Tomblin for his quiet work with legislators on the bill. “He held us together and compromised,” Stollings said. “When we sent that bill over there [to the House], we knew there were not going to be any amendments – period.”

That’s because leaders in the Senate already had worked out details of the bill with leaders in the House, he said. “There was strong leadership,” Stollings said. “[Senate Education Chairman Bob] Plymale did a great job, and [House Education Chairwoman] Mary Poling did a great job. The governor in a very quiet way did a great job.”

Provisions for early childhood education in the bill are good, he said, because they should help get kids in a safe environment early, so authorities can intervene if necessary. “That’s the next step,” Stollings said. “If you see a kid come to school hungry, then you have to intervene via social services.”

Stollings said changes in teacher hiring practices will help, despite what teachers’ unions claimed. “This was just misinformation,” he said. “They slung it out there. Some of it stuck.”

“We do a good job, as Voltaire said, of turning beef into baloney, but at the end of the day, it’s still edible.” – Delegate Don Perdue

Both of them said they received many emails from people opposed to the bill who used similar words like “appalled” and “disgusted.” They said they wrote a lot of emails they decided out of a sense of discretion not to send.

Despite the difficulties, Stollings called the process “a great experience.”

Perdue said, “We do a good job, as Voltaire said, of turning beef into baloney, but at the end of the day, it’s still edible.”

 

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

Media Report for Friday, April 05, 2013

 

W. Va. House GOP Not Too Pleased with 2013 Session
http://www.statejournal.com/story/21882121/wv-house-republicans-not-too-pleased-with-2013-session

 

Governor Re-Establishes Workforce Planning Council
http://www.dailymail.com/News/statehouse/201304040108

 

Several Principal Slots Being Vacated in Wood County
http://newsandsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/572655/Several-principal-slots-being-vacated.html?nav=5061

 

Williamstown Steering Committee to Meet with Wood BOE
http://newsandsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/572658/Williamstown-steering-committee-to-meet-with-Wood-BOE.html?nav=5061

 

Marshall County has a New Superintendent
http://www.wtov9.com/news/news/marshall-county-has-new-superintendent/nXDFR/

 

Who is Going to Pay for all these Free Meals for State Students
http://www.wvea.org/News---Events/News-and-Information/Who-is-going-to-pay-for-all-these-free-meals-for-s.aspx

 

Teachers of English as a Second Language to Attend Conference
http://www.dailymail.com/foodandliving/201304040146?page=2&build=cache

 

Walking W. Va. Coaches Arrive in Ohio Valley Today
http://www.wtov9.com/news/news/walking-wva-coaches-arrive-ohio-valley-tonight/nW9pD/

 

Local Teacher Tutored North Korean Defectors
http://www.theintermountain.com/page/content.detail/id/560441/Local-teacher-tutored-North-Korean-defectors.html?nav=5014

 

W. Va. Lawmakers OK Musket for High School Mascot
http://www.wvva.com/story/21890652/wva-lawmakers-ok-musket-for-high-school-mascot

 

Former Harrison County School Board Member Jim Reaser Dies
http://www.exponent-telegram.com/article_c05b5ff8-9d7d-11e2-85e3-0019bb2963f4.html

 

Jefferson High School Students to Attend Summer Conference
http://journal-news.net/page/content.detail/id/592963/Jefferson-High-School-students-to-attend-summer-conference.html?nav=5006