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January 31, 2014 - Volume 34 Issue 7

 

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


By Jim Wallace

Members of the Commission on School District Governance and Administration have come up with a new recommendation for providing county school districts with more flexibility, perhaps as much as 10 percent of their School Aid Formula funding.

 Increased flexibility on the local level was among several recommendations the commission developed late last year after holding several months of meetings, but when state school board members received a presentation from the commission earlier this month, they asked for something more precise. So at a meeting this week that included not only several members of the commission but also the treasurers of several school districts, as well as others, the commission hashed out a more specific recommendation about local flexibility. Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, also made a presentation to the commission.

The basic provision of the recommendation is to allow districts flexibility in how they use up to 10 percent of their School Aid Formula funds. Changes in state code would be needed in parts of Steps 1, 2 and 3, all of Step 4, and parts of Step 7 of the formula.

“I think we’re going in the right direction.” – Karen Price

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” commission member Karen Price, past president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, said after the commission adopted the recommendation. Tom Campbell, chairman of the commission and a member of the state school board, also said he thought it sounded good. Pendleton County Supt. Doug Lambert, a commission member, called it “a giant step.”

Agreement on the recommendation came after a long discussion. Early in the meeting, J.P. Mowery, treasurer of the Pendleton County schools, framed the discussion with an extensive oral and written presentation that made reference to state Department of Education documents, the education efficiency audit by Public Works, LLC, and even several articles from this publication, WVSBA’s The Legislature.

“There really is no factor for inflation in the school funding formula in simple terms,” Mowery said. As an example, he gave Step 6a, funding for general current expenses, which is based on enrollment and personnel costs. He said that “6a at times kind of spins its wheels in terms of generating additional funding.”

Using figures from his home county, Mowery said Pendleton County’s allocation under 6a went from $445,669 in fiscal year 2004 to a projected $496,875 in fiscal year 2015, an increase of only $51,206. But during that period, energy costs have increased by $120,000, even after the district took such conservation measures as replacing lights and ballasts and reducing temperatures in schools that are estimated to have saved about $200,000. Meanwhile, the amount the district must transfer to the Child Nutrition Program has increased by $140,000, and the costs for maintenance, custodial supplies and repairs have increased by more than $35,000.

“We would rather fund 98 personnel adequately than receive funding for 100 personnel and not be able to pay the light bill.” – J.P. Mowery

After giving more examples, Mowery suggested other types of flexibility, such as in Step 7, which is for the improvement of instructional programs, or in bus replacement, which comes under Step 4. “We would rather fund 98 personnel adequately than receive funding for 100 personnel and not be able to pay the light bill,” he said in his written presentation.

Campbell said the School Aid Formula doesn’t work very well when enrollment is declining in most of West Virginia’s school districts. The decline looks even worse when the dramatic increase in enrollment in Berkeley County is taken out. “If most counties were increasing in school-age population, we probably wouldn’t be here having the same conversation, but in reality, they aren’t,” he said.

Bill Smith, superintendent of the Cabell County schools and member of the commission, said giving districts more flexibility in spending would not endanger the integrity of the steps in the formula.

Joe Panetta, assistant state superintendent in the Division of Student Support Services, said he agreed with all that had been said. “I think there are some basic issues with the formula that do need to be addressed,” he said.

Newt Thomas, a member of the commission, said the proposed flexibility in spending would be a good solution for the near term, but the commission also should look at long-term solutions. He suggested looking at all the structures of the public education system, including county school districts.

“If 30 percent of school districts are less than 2,000 students, and we’ve got one school district with 10 percent of the students, it begs the question of why we need all of those entities to provide the services that the schools need,” Thomas said. “My feeling is that…we ought to do a feasibility study on the need for 55 school districts.

 

WVSBA also wants adjustments in the formula.

When O’Cull gave the WVSBA’s position, he pointed out that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin indicated in his State of the State address last year support for changes short of getting away from having local school boards. Tomblin said: “Over the past 30 years, we have seen a 26 percent decrease in student population. I believe the community, especially parents, should always have access to locally elected officials who oversee their schools. But that does not mean we can and should provide all the current administrative overhead to each of our 55 county school boards. We must become more efficient.”

The governor laid out a roadmap for change, O’Cull said. “The role of a county board is to bring community and political accountability to the school system,” he said. “And they do that through elected officials, at least in this state.” On the issue of efficiency, he reminded commission members that the state Constitution calls for a “thorough and efficient” school system.

“The biggest issue we are facing in this state is persistent declines in enrollment,” O’Cull said. “All that decline affects different steps in the formula, but it gets a lot at what Mr. Thomas talks about, too. What will we do in the future if we don’t begin to face this issue more in depth and more in detail?”

O’Cull repeated recommendations he previously made to the state school board to:

  • Conduct a thorough analysis of student enrollment trends and patterns from both a historical perspective and in terms of future projections;
  • Study where school facilities should be placed in regard to future enrollment trends;
  • Conduct a feasibility study on models for delivery of educational services, particularly central office administrative services,  based on prospective enrollment trends; and
  • Determine what the role of Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) should be.

If the commission doesn’t address those issues, legislators and others will, O’Cull said.

“Every step [in the formula] is largely driven by the number of students. If you have continually contracting numbers of students, then the formula has to adjust to that.” – Howard O’Cull

“Every step [in the formula] is largely  driven by the number of students,” he said. “If you have continually contracting numbers of students, then the formula has to adjust to that.”

The WVSBA wants to work with the commission, O’Cull said, especially in studying how to cope with the enrollment issue. He suggested that the process should be to determine the number of students, where they will be situated geographically and then figure out what services they need. Do that, he said, and the governance problem would be solved.

“It may not be county boards,” O’Cull said. “There may be a need to have some local flavor in this, but there may be regional service boards that ensure that services get to the different sites. And then, county boards at the local level – they might be responsible for seeing that there’s equity among the services.”

The Commission on School District Governance and Administration has scheduled its next meeting for February 26.

 

Bill would lead to school district consolidation.

In a related development that occurred after the commission’s meeting on Monday, O’Cull said he met Wednesday with Delegate Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, the lead sponsor of House Bill 4146. That bill would establish a nine-member Governor’s Committee on School Board Unification that would prepare a report on the feasibility of unifying and consolidating county school boards. The committee also would be expected to develop legislation for consideration in 2015 to encourage the consolidation of existing county school districts into no more than 27 districts.  (There is no Senate counterpart to the bill.)

O’Cull said House Bill 4146 is “probably not going anywhere” on its own. However, he said, it’s possible that Fragale or other legislators could, “particularly with the blessings of the House leadership, use the bill to leverage greater discussion about the number of school districts and their fiscal viability, given the declining enrollment ‘equation.’ That sometimes happens with a bill, especially when converted into a vehicle like an interim legislative study.”

Fragale also told O’Cull that he might contact members of the state school board for more information about the commission’s work and the report it issued in December.

On Monday, O’Cull plans to meet with leaders of the House Education Committee to discuss a number of issues. House Bill 4146 has been assigned to the committee, but it is not planned to be part of Monday’s discussion.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Top officials from the Department of Education faced tough questions from members of the House of Delegates this week about the department’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Both the House Finance Committee and the House Education Committee held meetings to get information about the budget, but the most challenging questions came from the Education Committee in a meeting Thursday.

The most contentious issue was the department’s position that it has both reduced the number of positions at the department and repurposed some positions to the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs). Joe Panetta, assistant state superintendent in the Division of Student Support Services, explained that the department “expired” 12 positions and is keeping several other positions vacant, while it is repurposing funding for 16 new positions at the RESAs.

But Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, noted that the money for those RESA positions is still in the department’s budget. Panetta said the money would be transferred to the RESAs’ budget.

“That’s smoke and mirrors.” – Delegate Roy Cooper

When he heard that, Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said, “That’s smoke and mirrors.”

 “Well, it’s not smoke and mirrors,” Panetta said. “It reduces the amount being spent by the department for personnel employment.” He added that it follows one of the recommendations of the education efficiency audit by Public Works, LLC. Later, he pointed out that although both the department and the RESAs come under the jurisdiction of the state school board, they are separate entities.

When Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said that means the RESAs have grown, Panetta said that is true but they also are taking on greater responsibility for professional development for the Next Generation standards. Perry said, “RESAs have always done professional development.” Panetta responded that they will do additional work to prepare educators for the Next Generation standards.

“But if I may interrupt,” Cooper said, “Next Generation standards replaced another standard that they were using, so it shouldn’t have taken extra funds just to change from one platform to another. It shouldn’t have taken extra money or extra people.” He also said, “Next Generation standards are so simple, it should take less people.”

Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, said she had a problem with the word “repurposed,” because she must live within her own budget, and that sometimes means cutting spending. When money is repurposed, she said, it just is spent somewhere else.

“I know you don’t like the repurposing thing, but we’re doing exactly what the audit asked us to do. They said reorganize the department so that positions can be put closer to the counties, which is exactly what we did.” – Supt. Jim Phares

Panetta again explained that the department did cut its budget but also repurposed part of the budget to the RESAs. Later, state Supt. Jim Phares said, “I know you don’t like the repurposing thing, but we’re doing exactly what the audit asked us to do. They said reorganize the department so that positions can be put closer to the counties, which is exactly what we did.”

 

Delegates challenge OEPA plans.

Gus Penix, director of the Office of Education Performance Audits, also faced tough questions, particularly from Perry and House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour. Perry wanted to know why the agency plans to do more school inspections, especially of high-performing schools, at a time when the state is moving toward more local control.

Penix said his agency, which is expanding from three persons doing audits to six persons, now is charged with measuring continuous improvement and looking for best practices. With three persons, OEPA has been visiting 55 to 85 schools each year, he said, but with the expanded staff, they will do 360 visits each of the next two years to conduct baseline audits that will be used to measure changes in future years.

Perry indicated he had a hard time seeing OEPA add positions at a time when funding for some student services are being cut. Poling followed up on his questions. Considering all the experience people at the Education Department have, she said, “You know what the best practices are. Why do we have to monitor for them anymore?”

Penix said there are many different efforts going on around the state, and it would be good for other people to know about them.

Poling also picked up on the department’s budget request, which Gov. Tomblin supports, for $2.8 million to put 32 math and 32 English teachers in career and technical centers around the state. Although she said she was not opposed to the proposal, she wondered how that would affect other schools that are having difficulty hiring certain types of teachers. “Have we considered the domino effect on the shortages, especially in math?”

Phares said the department is trying to let people know about the openings and will try to recruit teachers. “We have considered that,” he said. “Gains though outweigh the bad.”

The House Education Committee and Finance Committee both also held meetings to review the proposed budget for the School Building Authority, but the information discussed was essentially the same as what came up during a previous budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. For an account of that, see “More School Construction Is on the Way” in the January 24 issue of The Legislature.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee approved a few bills this week, including one affecting the statewide longitudinal data system being developed jointly for the public education system and the higher education system. It sometimes is referred to as the P-20 system, because it would track students from pre-kindergarten through college. Now it is being called a P-20W system because data on students who move into the workforce will be added.

That will involve a lot of data, and because of problems that have occurred nationally and internationally with the handling of data, some people have been concerned about how students’ data will be used and protected. Senate Bill 420 is designed to address those concerns. It would add WorkForce West Virginia and the West Virginia Supreme Court to the entities involved in the data-sharing compact, add workforce data to the system and create a governing board for the system.

“There’s nothing in statute now that relates to how we handle data,” Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale said. “What this does is [it] gives greater transparency to what data we’re going to use and how it’s going to be used and that it is including the judicial system that needs it for truancy and the child care system as you get a continuum of when kids come to elementary school.”

Plymale, D-Wayne, is the lead sponsor of the bill, which also has 19 other sponsors from both political parties.

“What you’re trying to get to is the fact we are making many more decisions now based upon data, and we should have a clear standard of how we're going to collect this data and then who are going to be among groups that can share data among themselves.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“It really addresses many of the concerns that people have brought to me related to the data and how you're going to use it,” he said. “What you’re trying to get to is the fact we are making many more decisions now based upon data, and we should have a clear standard of how we're going to collect this data and then who are going to be among groups that can share data among themselves. And when you start looking at trends of are we educating kids for the 21st century, you also have the workforce component in this.”

The bill would permit the data to be used for research, but research uses would be limited, Plymale said.

With the approval of the Senate Education Committee, Senate Bill 420 has gone to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration. Ten of the 17 members of the Finance Committee are among the sponsors of the bill.

 

Other bills advance in the Senate and the House.

The Senate Education Committee became the second committee to approve Senate Bill 381, which would require cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the Heimlich maneuver to be taught in the public school system as a condition of graduation. The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee previously approved the bill.

The bill would require students to receive only 30 minutes of CPR instruction sometime from ninth grade through 12th grade. That’s not enough for CPR certification, but the bill says schools would be encouraged to give enough instruction for students to get certification.

Senate Bill 381 is on track to get approval from the full Senate early next week.

Another bill the Senate Education Committee approved this week already has received the approval of the full House of Delegates. House Bill 4003 would grant dual jurisdiction to counties where a student lives in one county and attends school in another so that truancy policies could be enforced in either county.

The bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Approval by that committee would send it to the full Senate for a vote that could result in it becoming one of the first bills this session to go to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his signature.

Also this week, the Senate approved Senate Bill 209, which would require county boards of education to allow students with special needs to participate in graduation ceremonies with their peers. The bill would prohibit county boards from denying special needs services to a student due to participating in the graduation ceremonies. It now goes to the House Education Committee for further consideration.

The House Education Committee this week did not approve any bills relating to public education, but the full House of Delegates approved a bill that many county school board members are eager to see become law. House Bill 4002 would repeal recently effective requirements from a 2007 law that would penalize school districts when county assessors fall short in their property assessments.

The bill’s provisions would be retroactive to the beginning of the current fiscal year. Without that change, three county school districts – Lincoln, Monongalia and Wyoming – would lose substantial amounts of local share money this year. The current law would reduce state funding to school districts in counties in which real property assessments in the previous year were not at least 54 percent of the market value.

When the bill came up for a vote in the House on Wednesday, 92 delegates voted for it. Only three delegates voted against it: Bill Anderson, R-Wood; John McCuskey, R-Kanawha; and Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. Five delegates were absent and did not vote: George Ambler, R-Greenbrier; Anthony Barill, D-Monongalia; Joshua Nelson, R-Boone; Suzette Raines, R-Kanawha; and Ron Walters, R-Kanawha.

House Bill 4002 has gone to the Senate Education Committee and then will have to go through the Senate Finance Committee before it can get to a vote by the full Senate.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

A bill called the Move to Improve Act, Senate Bill 455, received attention on both sides of the Capitol Thursday. On one end, the Senate Health and Human Resources approved it. At the other end, the House Education Committee received a briefing from three of its supporters.

The bill is meant to counter childhood obesity by requiring students to get more physical activity while at school. For example, elementary students already are required to get 30 minutes of physical education at least three days a week, but the bill would require at least 50 percent of each physical education class to be spent in moderate to vigorous activity. On days when students don’t have a physical education class, they would be required to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity integrated into the school day. The bill includes similar requirements for middle school students. For high school students, at least 50 percent of each physical education class would have to be spent in moderate to vigorous activity.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said he was not opposed to the bill, but was concerned about requiring in law for schools to devote a certain number of minutes to an activity in the wake of recent education reforms that have removed time-based requirements for other subjects. He suggested that it would be better to let the Department of Education draft a policy about physical education and activity rather than do it through legislation. Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said his committee would consider that and ask about the cost of the proposal when the bill reaches the Education Committee.

Dr. Emily Murphy of West Virginia University’s Extension Service spoke in favor of the bill. She said her background is in exercise physiology and she expects there to be no extra cost to schools because of the bill’s requirements. But she said she also expects that teachers would get further training on how to get students involved in moderate to vigorous activity outside of physical education classes.

“We can’t force a child to get up and move, but we would be teaching the teachers how to motivate them to be more active.” – Dr. Emily Murphy

“We can’t force a child to get up and move, but we would be teaching the teachers how to motivate them to be more active,” Murphy said.

Hall suggested that an argument could be made for similar requirements for putting art and music into the school day, but he did not pursue that suggestion.

Shortly after the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee approved Senate Bill 420 and sent it to the Senate Education Committee, the House Education Committee also heard from Murphy and others about the Move to Improve bill.

Don Chapman, the coordinator for health, physical education and driver’s education at the Department of Education, said current requirements for physical education in schools came out of the 2005 Healthy Lifestyles Act. Asked about how schools could meet physical activity requirements when weather is inclement, he said the department has guidelines to help teachers lead students in movement at their desks.

During the past year, Chapman said, 83 percent of elementary schools reported they met the current time requirements of 90 minutes a week of physical education.

“Kids that are more physically active do better in school.” – Dr. Emily Murphy

Murphy told the committee, “Kids that are more physically active do better in school.” She said that only six states – and 20 percent of schools nationwide – require daily physical education in every grade. “West Virginia is actually way above some other states,” she said. “We have really great standards. Just making sure they’re implemented on a school-by-school basis is what we need to make sure of.”

Mingo County schools have implemented a policy similar to what the Move to Improve bill calls for, Murphy said, and the result has been dramatic decreases in absenteeism and disciplinary problems.

Joe Smith of the West Virginia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance told the committee about how research and experience elsewhere support the Move to Improve proposal.

 

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.