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February 28, 2014 - Volume 34 Issue 15

 

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

 

By Jim Wallace

A bill that would have prohibited county school boards from using people hired by Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESAs) to displace school service personnel and teachers in county districts did not get through the House of Delegates, but the proposal is still alive. Members of a subcommittee of the House Education Committee plan to get a resolution approved that would have legislators study the issues during monthly interim meetings leading up to the 2015 legislative session.

House Bill 4516 never got out of the House Education Committee, but the subcommittee met Thursday to consider what to do about the problem. The West Virginia School Service Personnel Association and teachers’ unions complained that employees of school districts had lost jobs to people employed by RESAs. For example, one report was that five secretaries in Mingo County were laid off and replaced by a RESA employee.

Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, suggested that, instead of putting the issue up for study during monthly legislative interim meetings over the next year, the legislature instead should write a letter to the state school board asking for clarification in regard to particular issues and find out how prevalent the problem is.

Last year, at the state board’s request, the WVSBA conducted a series of meetings among county board members to identify administrative services that could be shared among counties, potentially with help from RESAs. One of the recommendations that came out of those meetings is to figure out the roles and responsibilities of RESAs. That’s up to the state board, which is oversees the RESAs. O’Cull said the WVSBA plans to look this summer at how personnel might be shared among counties.

“This legislation, the way I read it is prospective,” he said. “It applies to the future, and I don’t know how it applies to people already currently in positions. Usually, legislation like that is not made retroactive, so you have those persons already in positions.”

A related development O’Cull mentioned is that the Commission on School District Governance and Administration is looking at the issue of shared services.

“If projections are correct, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of issues relating to maybe the sharing of services between and among counties. This is an issue, I think… the legislature is going to have to look at.” – Howard O’Cull

“I bring this all to your attention because as we go throughout the next few years, if projections are correct, we’re going to be dealing with a lot of issues relating to maybe the sharing of services between and among counties,” he said. “This is an issue, I think… the legislature is going to have to look at.”

O’Cull suggested legislators should wait for the results of the WVSBA’s summer meetings before trying to take action. He reminded subcommittee members that the legislature put provisions into code in 1989 that allow for the sharing of administrative services.

Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, asked whether two counties that did not each need a fulltime Spanish teacher could share one. O’Cull said he expected that to be an issue and part of the discussions ahead. Districts could make such arrangements among themselves without going through RESAs, he said.

“They may bring the efficiencies we need to bring between and among the counties,” O’Cull said. “They could be done by RESAs perhaps or they could be done by counties on their own.”

Delegate Ron Fragale, D-Harrison, said, “I’d like to think the rationale or priority for this is to better serve students in the said RESA area.” He added, “Secondly, we would hope that consolidation of services would then save some money.”

O’Cull said the overarching goal should be to improve student achievement. Once you establish that, the next step is to figure out how to construct your system to meet needs and not get into duplication, he said, and other issues are peripheral.

 

Board exerts more control over RESAs.

“Over the past couple of years, the state board has assumed our role as being in charge of RESAs… we have done a lot to start actively participating in what they do.” – Wade Linger

Wade Linger, a member of the state school board, said, “Over the past couple of years, the state board has assumed our role as being in charge of RESAs. As Howard said, we have done a lot to start actively participating in what they do.”

The RESAs were mentioned 268 times in the education efficiency audit, usually in examples for efficiency, he said. The state board wants to use them more efficiently, such as delivering professional development at lower cost, Linger said.

“From the state board’s perspective, this should be about the children, not about the adults in the system, he said. “What we would like to get out of this is to get a good definition of what this committee is looking for.” Linger said the board also would like to prepare a presentation to the committee.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel, “I was in the school system for 40 years as a teacher, and I agree with you that it is all about the students, but it’s also about treating employees fairly.” When people think they have been mistreated, they ask for legislation, he said, and if school boards are laying off people and replacing them with  a RESA employee, that’s wrong. He said he intends to get to the bottom of the issue.

Linger said the state board wants to do the right thing. But he added that a lot of the problems board members have heard about the RESAs come from people who are “sort of competitors” with the RESAs. “At the state board level, we think that the RESAs and all the other elements within the education system all have their place, and we have no vested interest in boosting one to the detriment of the other,” he said.

“There’s something wrong when you’re replacing award-winning teachers to save a little bit of money.” – Dale Lee

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he knew of one instance in which a teacher, who has won national awards, has been transferred from special education, because two counties are using a RESA employee for a gifted students program. “There’s something wrong when you’re replacing award-winning teachers to save a little bit of money,” he said.

 

Health care reform is an issue.

State Supt. Jim Phares said another reason to define what RESAs should do is because of requirements of the the Affordable Care Act. It probably needs legislation, he said, and it could have tremendous financial consequences. He advised legislators that, if the pass a resolution to study RESAs, it should include the effects of the ACA. He also said they should hear from people in the governor’s office and from the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

“They’ve been evolutionary since 2002,” Phares said about the RESAs. “They’ve become more entrepreneurial. When you look at the level of funding that they get from the legislature and the actual revenues that they produce and then expend, what we’re funding them for is far less than what the money they’re generating through the entrepreneurial services of that RESA.” No one would say they are not worthwhile, he added.

Pethtel concluded the meeting by saying the issue is not new. All parties must come to an understanding and trust each other, he said.

Below are the WVSBA’s recommendations regarding the issues involved in House Bill 4516 to which O’Cull referred as he made his remarks to the subcommittee:

  1. If it is the will of the House Education Committee, write a letter to the state Board of Education, encouraging the state Board to examine the issue of deployment of Regional Education Service Agency employees as that term is defined in §18-1-1, namely:
    1. "Teacher" means a teacher, supervisor, principal, superintendent, public school librarian or any other person regularly employed for instructional purposes in a public school in this state; 
       
    2. "Service person" or "service personnel," whether singular or plural, means any nonteaching school employee who is not included in the meaning of "teacher" as defined in this section, and who serves the school or schools as a whole, in a nonprofessional capacity, including such areas as secretarial, custodial, maintenance, transportation, school lunch and aides. Any reference to "service employee" or "service employees" in this chapter or chapter eighteen-a of this code means service person or service personnel as defined in this section; 
       
    3. "Social worker" means a nonteaching school employee who, at a minimum, possesses an undergraduate degree in social work from an accredited institution of higher learning and who provides various professional social work services, activities or methods as defined by the state board for the benefit of students; 
       
    4. "Regular full-time employee" means any person employed by a county board who has a regular position or job throughout his or her employment term, without regard to hours or method of pay; 

      Accordingly, the state Board could be encouraged to explore policy implications regarding this matter, reporting to the Joint Committee on Education.  Note:  By statute, including §18-2-26,

      RESAs, including RESA governance, is the responsibility of the state Board of Education. Moreover, in interim meetings leading up to the 2014 regular session, the Legislature effectively affirmed the state Board’s posture regarding RESA governance and, hence, deference for the  matters raised in House Bill 4516.  
       
  2. As required by a 2013 statute, §18-2-26-a,  the W. Va. School Board Association will be holding meetings this summer relative to House Bill 2940. That bill, adopted by the Legislature last year, requires county boards to meet in their respective RESA regions to discuss the sharing of services – primarily county-level services – between and among school districts. That particular aspect of the report has been completed. The summer 2014 meetings, in fact, could lead to an exploration of how county boards might work out arrangements between and among themselves to share regular full-time employees (teachers and service personnel). This information also could be reported to the Legislature. (The report is required to be received by the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability – LOCEA.) In terms of the statute, this has to be done by October 1, 2014. 
     
  3. The intent of this legislation appears prospective. Until these studies are completed, current or existing arrangements should remain as they are. Based on the state Board study as well as association work, prospective arrangements can be addressed by those entities involved, including the state Board, county boards and RESAs. 
     
  4. The state Board of Education’s Commission on School District Governance and Administration is working its agenda to consider issues such as these. That entity, too, may provide enhanced guidance on this matter. 

The actual issue we are dealing should be how to configure services to county boards, 47 of whom are facing declining enrollments which, of course, effects personnel deployment. 

The issues raised in this bill, while certainly not raised solely by county boards facing declines in student enrollments, will require policy review and policy development.  

By using the above approach, a threshold will be established to examine the issues of personnel deployment. 

  • Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director on behalf of the West Virginia School Board Association Executive Board.  

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Bills to raise the pay of teachers and school service personnel, give teachers more control over their planning periods, and ensure that school districts are not penalized for shortcomings in county property assessments were among those approved by the Senate by Wednesday’s Crossover Day deadline. Crossover Day is the 50th day of the 60-day legislative session. Except for budget and supplemental appropriation bills, any bill that fails to pass its house of origin then is dead for the session.

One of the bills the Senate approved on the day of the deadline was Senate Bill 391. As proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the bill would have provided a two percent pay increase to all county school board employees and bring the state minimum pay-scale pay grade for service personnel back within equity. The Senate Education Committee changed it to provide teachers with a $1,000 across-the-board pay raise, so that it would have more of an effect for younger, lower-paid teachers. But the Senate Finance Committee was afraid it would be too difficult to pay for the increased cost of that in a tight budget year, so the committee changed it back to the original version.

However, senators reached a compromise by the time the bill came up for consideration in the full Senate. The new version would cost about the same as the original version, but teachers would receive an across-the-board increase of $837. School service personnel still would get 2 percent increases. The Senate approved the bill on a 30-2 vote with Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, voting against it.

After the vote, McCabe explained he opposed it because it amounts to providing pay raises with borrowed money. He said the money to balance the budget probably will come from some reserve account.

“Clearly, we don't have the revenues this year to match the salary increase,” McCabe said. “That $34 million is really closer to $70 million or maybe even $100 million, because we already know that next year we're going to have to go back again into some of our reserve accounts to balance the budget. What we don’t know is: Two years from now will we have to do the same thing? We are assuming not, but that is a real big assumption.”

McCabe said he wasn’t challenging the need for salary increases, because teachers’ salaries are “grossly out of line.” But he said, in the future, legislators should look at where the money will come from and whether they are addressing improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. It would take hundreds of millions of dollars to bring teachers’ salaries up to the mid-range of the nation, he said.

“We need to figure out how to redefine, realign and rework education in a way that we can live within our means. We need to demand excellence, and we need to be willing to pay for it, and that means we have to have proper teacher salaries. But at the same time, we’ve got to be in a position to deal with it from a financial perspective." – Sen. Brooks McCabe

“We need to figure out how to redefine, realign and rework education in a way that we can live within our means,” McCabe said. “We need to demand excellence, and we need to be willing to pay for it, and that means we have to have proper teacher salaries. But at the same time, we’ve got to be in a position to deal with it from a financial perspective."  
  
The teachers’ organizations are willing to come to the table and address the issue, he said. “We may not need as many teachers or service employees in the future if we don't have all the regulatory weight on their shoulders, if we don't have all the forms, all the documentation,” McCabe said. “We may not need as many administrators. We may be able to provide a more efficient education in our classrooms, spend the dollars the way we need to, and pay the teachers and service personnel the way they ought to be paid.” 

Then he compared Senate Bill 391 to another bill the Senate passed: Senate Bill 486, which would provide pay raises for State Police forensic lab employees. That set of raises would cost more than $500,000, McCabe said, but it could help eliminate a big backlog of prisoners sitting in regional jails because the forensic work has not been done on their cases to allow them to be brought up for trial. That backlog costs the about $5 million a year, he said.

“That's the kind of pay raises that we ought to be focusing on,” McCabe said “We have to match our need with our ability. We have to match our need with an improvement in efficiency and effectiveness and a redesign of the system.”

Since the Senate approved it, Senate Bill 391 has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

 

Bill would prevent interference with planning periods.

Another bill the Senate approved was pushed by Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne. Senate Bill 477 would provide that teachers would determine the use of time in their planning periods. Before the Senate passed the bill, Plymale added an amendment to say the bill wouldn’t prohibit any teacher from conducting a meeting, as prescribed, at his or her discretion.

“During the deliberations of Senate Bill 359 last year, we had a long conversation related to the planning period,” Plymale said. “It was determined that the state board would come back – and it was in the bill – and make a recommendation on the planning period in December.”

What the state school board and Education Department provided the legislature was “just some paragraph saying this is what a planning period is” – not what he considered to be a recommendation, he said. Thus, Plymale said, the bill would prohibit administrators from compelling a teacher to attend meetings or training or any other work-related event during a planning period, except for the occasional instance of conferences with teachers, including team meetings and evaluations conferences.”

The Senate approved the bill 34-0. It has been assigned to House Education Committee.

 

Bill would fix problem threatening school board funding.

Many school board members will welcome the passage of Senate Bill 432, which is designed to correct a problem they have been complaining about for several years. The problem was in a provision in the law that just took effect this fiscal year. It would cut state funding for districts in counties in which assessors failed to assess property at a minimum of 54 percent of market value.

Plymale explained to his colleagues that the bill would require “that for the first year properties are under-assessed, the Property Evaluation Training Procedures Commission notify the assessor that the sales ratio analysis indicates the assessments are below 60 percent of the market value. And when a valid sales ratio analysis cannot be obtained due to the lack of arm’s length sales of the property in a county, it creates the assumption that all property in the county is assessed at 60 percent.

That, he said would take care of Lincoln, Monongalia and Wyoming counties – the three that are out of compliance this year with the current law.

The Senate approved the bill on a 33-0 vote. It has been assigned to House Finance Committee.

 

Bills dealing with troubled students also got through the Senate.

“If a judge determines that the student is an appropriate candidate for the juvenile drug court, the court would have the jurisdiction over the student in the same manner it would have jurisdiction over all other persons in the program.” – Sen. Corey Palumbo

Senate Bill 252 would allow a county school board, superintendent, principal or parent to refer an expelled student to juvenile drug court. Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, explained to fellow senators, “If a judge determines that the student is an appropriate candidate for the juvenile drug court, the court would have the jurisdiction over the student in the same manner it would have jurisdiction over all other persons in the program.”

The bill would provide that if the student would complete the juvenile drug court program successfully, the court would notify the county superintendent. “The superintendent then would confer with the judge and the juvenile drug court treatment team for the student,” Palumbo said. “And the superintendent would select a school within the district for the student to return to no later than the fifth regular school day following the recommendation.”

The Senate approved the bill 34 to zero. It has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

Another bill would deal with truancy. “Senate Bill 493 would preclude the counting of suspension days toward the determination of truancy or the prosecution of parents for failing to have their children attend school,” Palumbo said. “The bill creates an exception that allows suspension days to count toward finding a student as a status offender if a court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the action causing suspension was taken solely due to the student’s desire to be out of school.”

The Senate approved that bill on a 33-0 vote. It has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

 

Bill with various reforms gets Senate approval.

Also on the list of bills that are still alive for this session is Senate Bill 409, which contains a wide range of changes for public education and higher education. As Plymale explained it, the bill would:

  • Require that each electronic county school strategic improvement plan be for a period of no more than five years.
  • Modify the provisions relating to school system accreditation by generally giving the state board more flexibility in establishing a system of accreditation.
  • Add propane as an alternative fuel that a county will get credit for in determining the county’s allowance for transportation costs.
  • Require that a teacher with a valid West Virginia teaching certificate be awarded certification to teach in an additional area of certification upon submission of a passing score of an appropriate content area test required of other teachers for certification in that area.
  • Add a provision for a critical need alternative teaching certificate, which is valid for the purpose of allowing the certificate-holder to teach in subject areas. It would requires a position to have been posted for at least twice and for the position to have remained unfilled by a certified teacher for at least one full year before that position could be filled by the holder of a critical-need alternative teaching certificate. It would provide that the certificate is valid for two years and may be renewed for one additional year and it would support eligibility requirements for the new certificate. It would require that training and support of the critical-need alternative teaching certificate holder be provided by a professional support team.
  • Add a number of additional duties for the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council [for Community and Technical Colleges] for the purpose of facilitating a more seamless transfer process and make it easy for students to finish a degree when transferring credits.
  • Require a bachelor’s degree institution seeking to change its required program of study for a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science program that is part of a statewide 2+2 pathway to notify the council and the commission of the proposed changes at the same time as the initiation of the university’s approval process.

The Senate’s vote to approve the bill was 27 to six. It has been assigned to House Education Committee

Getting no opposition in the Senate was Senate Bill 455, which would create the West Virginia Move to Improve Act. It would require students to get more physical activity in school. The Senate approved it 33 to zero. It has been assigned to House Health and Human Resources Committee.

Senate Bill 539 would provide that law-enforcement officers employed for school security would be allowed to carry firearms on school property if certain conditions are met. The Senate approved the bill 33 to nothing. It has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 253 would amend language in the code for accuracy and clarification concerning a special community-based pilot demonstration project. The bill would change “President of the Community and Technical College System” to “Chancellor of the Community and Technical College System.” It also would add the word “preschool” following the reference to increased enrollment of four-year olds in one section. The Senate approved it on a 33-0 vote. The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee.

 

House-passed measures get some attention.

Even though the Senate waited to deal with most House bills until after it got its own bills through Crossover Day, the Senate has been moving one House bill that could pass as early as Monday. House Bill 4384 would require teachers of students with exceptional needs to either be present at an individualized education program meeting or to sign a copy of the IEP plan indicating that they have read the plan and to make modifications and accommodations intended to help students in particular subjects.

When the bill came before the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said, “I’m just amazed that the teacher would not have to participate or sign the IEP. How are those being processed without signatures or without participation?”

State Supt. Jim Phares said a special education IEP manager usually puts a plan forward in a meeting, which almost always is held at the student’s school. The meeting is the first phase of the process, he said, and making modifications and accommodations is the second phase. The bill would require all of a student’s teachers to have to sign off saying they know what those modifications and accommodations are and that they’ll put them in place in their classrooms, Phares said. Teachers are still responsible for them even if they weren’t at the meeting, he said.

Because of reports that some IEP meetings have been held in central offices or places other than the schools the affected students attend, the committee amended the bill to require meetings to be held in the students’ schools whenever possible. If they must be conducted elsewhere, teachers would be allowed to participate by telephone or similar means.

“We’re kind of shocked that IEPs [meetings] would be held anywhere other than the schools,” Phares said. He could recall only two or three meetings over 15 years that weren’t held at the schools because they were so volatile. They were moved elsewhere so the meetings would not disrupt the schools, he said.

House Bill 4384 received its second reading in the Senate today, meaning the Senate could pass it as early as Monday.

The Senate Education Committee also has approved a resolution already approved by the House of Delegates. A resolution doesn’t carry the weight of law but indicates the intent of the legislature. House Concurrent Resolution 92 requests that the West Virginia School Building Authority waive local matching fund requirements and fund all needed improvements for the West Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Romney.

Phares explained to the committee that the school operates under the authority of the state school board rather than any local board. “To provide a local match, the only source of income they have is their operational budget,” he said. “The state board can’t run a bond for them, can’t run a levy for them. They don’t have the statutory authority to do that. Likewise, Hampshire County doesn’t have the statutory authority to run bonds and levies for the School for the Deaf and Blind, because it’s not a Hampshire County school; it’s a state board of education school. That leaves them at a disadvantage when they apply for an SBA grant.”

Although the amount of matching funds required for a project to get funding from the School Building Authority varies, the agency has been requiring at least a 25 percent match for several years.

Plymale said, “Obviously, the facility is in bad shape. It needs help.”

Phares said, “One of the things this will do is it will put them on at least an even playing field.”

Gayle Manchin, president of the state school board, said the board realized the scope of work that needs to be done to renovate facilities after members visited the school. She thanked the committee for approving the resolution, which has gone to the Senate Finance Committee for its consideration.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Bills that met Wednesday’s must-pass deadline in the House of Delegates included legislation to establish Innovation School Districts, protect student data, improve literacy in early grades, and allow children to have sweet treats at certain times in school.

House Bill 4619 would authorize eight county school systems to be designated as Innovation School Districts through a competitive application process to the state school board. Two school systems each could be selected from each of the four student population density categories (sparse, low, medium and high). A district would have to develop a plan for the innovations it seeks to implement, and the plan would have to be approved at the local level. If selected by the state board, the district would be authorized to seek waivers of statutes, policies, rules and interpretations over a five-year period as it would progress with implementation of its plan.

The House accepted an amendment to the bill from Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, and Vice Chairman David Perry, D-Fayette. It would require the state school board to establish a priority for applications that include the establishment of entrepreneurship education programs as a curricular offering for students. To qualify under that priority, the program strategy would have to include the active involvement of one or more partners from the business community in program delivery.

The House approved the bill on a 95-0 vote. It has been assigned to Senate Education Committee.

 

Data bill gets some changes.

House Bill 4316 underwent four amendments on the House floor before delegates approved it. The purpose of the bill is to create a Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act. It would require the Department of Education to make publicly available an inventory and index of all data elements with definitions of individual student data fields currently in the statewide longitudinal data system. The department also would be required to create a data security plan, ensuring compliance with federal and state data privacy laws and policies. Certain contracts would be required to include privacy and security provisions. A data governance officer would be created within the department with the primary mission to ensure department-wide compliance with all privacy laws and regulations. In addition, the bill would add new annual security and privacy requirements for reporting to the governor and legislature.

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, offered three amendments to the bill His first amendment would prohibit the collection of any data about the sexual orientation or beliefs about sexual orientation of any student or student’s family members. It also would add a prohibition against collecting any data about firearm ownership, similar to a provision added to Senate Bill 420, which also deals with data sharing in the state’s longitudinal data system.

House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, told his colleagues about Butler’s amendment, “While I think that the additional language is unnecessary, I think it does no harm to the bill.” Delegates approved the amendment 81 to 15.

Butler’s second amendment added this sentence: “Ensure that any inter-agency data-sharing agreements shall be posted on the [Education] Department website, and parents shall be notified of their right to opt out of sharing the child’s data pursuant to agreements.”

“This amendment is the only real control that a parent has over their child’s information.” – Delegate Jim Butler

Butler said, “This amendment is the only real control that a parent has over their child’s information.” He called it a watered-down version of an amendment he offered that the Education Committee rejected. Again, Manchin said the amendment would do no harm. The House approved it 87 to 10

Butler’s third amendment removed in two places the words, “state board to authorize.” He explained, “This would require that laws or rules determine access to student data rather than leaving this up to the state board, which is, as we know, unelected and unaccountable to the voters.” Again, Manchin said the amendment would do no harm. Delegates approved it on a voice vote.

The fourth amendment came from Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell. It removed the words “or approved by the state board.” Sobonya explained, “The state school board does their rules on education. They do education rules, but those are not under the purview of the legislature. We do not get to approve or reject any of the state school board rules. Therefore, they can basically do what they want. They are appointed by the governor. They’re not elected. They don’t have to answer to anybody. They have years of a term and basically can make decisions what they want. And if this bill is going to try to give some type of privacy or empower parents and students with that private information, I believe that this amendment is necessary.”

Manchin said that amendment would do no harm. The House approved it 89 to eight.

The delegates then approved House Bill 4316 on a 95-2 vote with Scott Cadle, R-Mason, and John Ellem, R-Wood, voting against it. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

 

Early literacy bill goes long way through process.

Another bill not only received the approval of the House of Delegates but also got through a Senate committee. House Bill 4618 would remove critical skills and instructional support programs that are now in the law for third and eighth grades and replace them with a program that would focus solely on the importance of grade-level proficiency in reading by the end of the third grade.

“The early literacy program is a comprehensive, systemic approach that focuses school readiness, attendance, extended-day and extended-year reading programs, and a system of intervention for children not reaching grade-level reading proficiency,” Poling told her colleagues. “Students in grades kindergarten through third grade who are identified as needing additional assistance may be required to attend an extended-year program as a condition of promotion when the appropriate supports have been implemented in the county.”

“I believe this refocusing will result in much greater return in student success.” – Delegate Mary Poling

Concluding her summary of the bill, she said, “I believe this refocusing will result in much greater return in student success.” The House approved the bill 96 to zero.

On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee took it up. One committee member, Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the bill sounded like a great idea, but he noted that such new programs seem to come along every year. He wanted to know what was different about this early literacy program.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the bill resulted from meetings among the leaders of the Senate and House Education Committees and officials in the Education Department on how to implement last year’s education reform legislation, Senate Bill 359.

State Supt. Jim Phares said Senate Bill 359 put new emphasis on having every student read at grade level by the end of third grade. So education officials wanted to do something more proactive than the current critical skills program that focuses on third-graders and eighth-graders. He said they made sure they provided a vehicle for funding without adding costs to the process. Also, he said, communication with parents would be much clearer so that they would understand better the status of their children.

Plymale said that was a major concern of the teachers’ groups. “I think everybody got on board to do this,” he said. “I think the House did a very good job working with the state department and others in preparing this bill in getting it where it should be.”

The committee’s approval means that House Bill 4618 can go to the full Senate.

 

“Cupcake bill” gains weight.

Legislation that has received much attention is House Bill 4307. It started out as a short, simple bill to allow students to occasionally have sweet treats at school parties or other celebrations once a year. Some have dubbed it the “cupcake bill.”

The bill’s original wording provided: “Once a year, an elementary school may celebrate an event during which cupcakes or other refreshments such as cakes, pies or other similar desserts are served to the students by the school or parents of students at the school, without restrictions as to caloric or nutrient content, to teach balanced nutrition through moderation.”

The revised wording is much longer:  

  1. The Legislature recognizes that periodic celebrations where students enjoy non-instructional or recreational activities are valuable means for increasing students’ interest and engagement in school and that recognition programs increase students’ desire to succeed in school.
     
  2. Each public school faculty senate, together with the school principal, shall adopt a plan regarding how that school will administer school or classroom celebrations on a periodic basis as determined by the school principal in compliance with provisions of this code and state board policy governing required instructional time. Subject to approval of the local school improvement council, and for the purpose of such events only, a school is authorized to waive only the nutritional and caloric content requirements of state board policies regarding standards for school nutrition.
     
  3. The celebrations shall be scheduled for purposes designated by the faculty senate and approved by the school principal. Such purposes may include events designed to motivate students, or to celebrate the following: (1) Holidays; (2) special events; (3) student accomplishments, recognitions or successes; (4) school achievements; (5) school or student awards; or (6) such other purposes as designated by the faculty senate and approved by the principal.
     
  4. Each school is encouraged to facilitate participation of parents and the parent-teacher organization for the events.
     
  5. Schools are encouraged to focus attention to enjoyable and relaxing activities for students, including physical activities when possible, and to minimize attention on refreshments.
     
  6. The faculty senate shall educate parents regarding permissible activities and refreshments for the events. The faculty senate specifically shall inform parents of the following regarding any food item provided for consumption by a student other than one’s own child:
    1. The requirement that any such food item shall be either:
      1. Commercially pre-packaged and unopened, whether provided in bulk or per individual serving; or
         
      2. Fresh, whole foods which are provided for on-site preparation in the school cafeteria pursuant to school meal preparation guidelines;
         
    2. Applicable state board and federal standards for food safety, individual student dietary needs, and nutritional and caloric content; and
       
    3. Access to and information contained in the Office of Child Nutrition publication provided for in subsection (g) of this section.
       
  7. The Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition shall accomplish the following:
    1. Annually educate school personnel and central board office food service personnel on the array of healthy and permissible options for student refreshments;
       
    2. Furnish semi-annually to each faculty senate a copy of its publication providing guidance for planning healthy school parties; and
       
    3. Provide guidance for implementing the provisions of the publication.

The delegates approved House Bill 4307 with 95 members in favor of it and only Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, against it. It has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.

 

Districts would get help for more expensive students.

Another bill to get through the House is House Bill 4137, which would provide a more equitable distribution to county school boards for reimbursement of the costs of serving high cost/high acuity special needs students. They are students whose educational costs exceed three times the average per-student cost. They include regularly enrolled students placed in out-of-state facilities and residential facility students with special needs who are enrolled with county boards. The reimbursement of costs over that limit is made with a combination of state and federal funds, but those funds currently meet only 54 percent of the eligible requests. At less than full reimbursement, counties with higher percentages high cost/high acuity special needs students spend disproportionate percentages of their instructional budgets on them. The bill would require a distribution formula that would equalize the budgetary effects as much as possible.

The House approved it on a 96-0 vote. It has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee.

School boards would be limited in scheduling special elections if House Bill 4399 would become law. It would provide that a local levying body may not hold more than one special election for the purpose of submitting a levy question to the voters during any year in which a regular primary or general election is held. During years in which there is no regular primary or general election, the local levying body may not hold a special election in the months of January, February or December. The House approved the bill 96 to zero. It has been assigned to the Senate Government Organization Committee.

Yet another bill the House approved is House Bill 4555, which would require county boards of education to provide released time for professional educators and service personnel when they serve in elected municipal or county offices part-time. It’s the same provision that allows school employees to serve in the legislature. The House approved the bill on an 85-10 vote. The 10 nays all came from Republicans.

House Bill 4501 would provide that law-enforcement officers employed for school security would be allowed to carry firearms on school property if certain conditions are met. The House approved it 95 to zero. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 4373 would help improve the offering of driver education courses to secondary school students by providing options for permitted instructors and allowing courses outside of the regular school schedule. The bill also would remove the requirement for the state superintendent of schools to prescribe the course of instruction, license and periodically inspect commercial driver education schools. Further it would remove from the purposes of the program that the secondary school driver education courses should be offered to out-of-school youth and adults. The House approved the bill on a 96-0 vote. It has gone to the Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 4608 would define dyslexia and dyscalculia in accordance with international definitions. It received a 95-0 vote of approval in the House and has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

 

Bill would clear out some deadwood in education law.

The final education bill approved by the House is House Bill 4228. It would repeal or remove certain portions of education-related statutes that have expired or those that require or provide for funding. The bill would repeal the authorization for county boards of education with an excess levy in effect prior to Better Schools Amendment to propose an additional excess levy not exceeding 100 percent for a period of five years. It would repeal an expired pilot program for the delivery of leftover foods from schools and penal institutions. In addition, the bill would repeal expired provisions for review of a system of education performance audits. Further, the bill would repeal an expired requirement for the audit of state board policies. Also, it would repeal:

  • The library media improvement grant program.
  • An expired requirement for study on school equity.
  • An expired provision governing county board meetings.
  • An adult literacy education program financed, in part, by a voluntary state income tax return check-off.
  • The appropriation and allocation, up to $7 million, due to the increase in local share to Teachers Retirement System.
  • The incentive for administrative efficiency in public schools and its associated funding to the county boards of education.
  • The requirement for county boards of education to file to request schedules for funds to which they may be entitled.
  • The Better School Buildings Amendment and associated funding to county boards of education.
  • An expired study on training, certification, licensure and retraining of teachers.
  • A study of alternative certification programs that was required to be submitted to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability by December 31, 2013.
  • The requirement to record and distribute exemplary teaching techniques and its associated bonuses to certain teachers.
  • An expired study on daily planning periods.
  • A provision that the state board of education need only file a single copy of a proposed rule with the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.
  • The requirement that the state board of education contract with an independent agency to evaluate the results of character education and biannual reporting.
  • The requirement for semiannual reporting on the effect of increased compulsory attendance age of students and the progress the state and county boards have made in implementing its associated requirements.

The House approved the bill 95 to nothing. It has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

One of the many bills that have died for this year’s legislative session is Senate Bill 562, which would have increased the pay for county school board members for attending various meetings and training sessions. It received the approval of the Senate Education Committee on February 20, but went to the Senate Finance Committee on February 20 and never got out of that committee. The bill had to be approved by the full Senate no later than Wednesday to survive.

Of course, leaders of the West Virginia School Board Association who had worked to get legislative approval for the bill were disappointed to lose it. WVSBA’s President-elect Jim Crawford, a member of the Kanawha County school board, said the association contacted senators, especially those on the Finance Committee, with information similar to what WVSBA members received from Executive Director Howard O’Cull on February 23.

“We tried very diligently to get the legislation adopted. Most importantly, we cannot let this proposal die.” – Jim Crawford

“In addition, many trips were made to the Capitol and numerous communications were relayed to the Senate Finance Committee,” Crawford said. “The committee leadership, for whatever reasons, chose not to consider the legislation. There are points of conjecture as to the reasons, but I choose not to give credit to any individual response, except to share that we tried very diligently to get the legislation adopted. Most importantly, we cannot let this proposal die.

Although the bill is dead for this session, O’Cull is working with leaders of the Senate and House Education Committees to get legislators to approve a resolution that would result in having them study the issue during their monthly interim meetings leading up to next year’s legislative session.

“In the meantime, please thank the members of the Senate Education Committee – particularly Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne; Truman Chafin, D-Mingo; and Jack Yost, D-Brooke – for promoting this legislation and Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, for sponsoring the House of Delegates’ version of the bill, House Bill 4597,” Crawford told WVSBA members. “Next year, we will return more organized with direction and intent to promote this legislation. Thank you for your endeavors.”

 

 

By Howard O’Cull

The West Virginia School Board Association surveyed the 55 county boards of education earlier in the month to determine the number of meetings county boards held in FY13.

This information was provided to the Senate Education Committee, which adopted Senate Bill 562, a measure that would have increased pay for county boards of education members. That bill, which was adopted in the form of a committee substitute by the Senate Education Committee, had a second reference to the Senate Finance Committee. However, the Senate Finance did not consider the bill, so it died there.

The House companion measure, House Bill 4597, was referred to the House Education Committee with a second reference to the House Finance Committee, but the House Education Committee did not consider it.

The survey included responses from school boards in 47 counties. Based on those responses, 1,758 total board meetings were held in the year ending June 30, 2013. That figure includes:

  • 1,106 regular county boards of education meetings;
  • 644 special county boards of education meetings; and
  • 8 emergency county boards of education meetings.

Note:  Refer below for matters regarding special and emergency meetings as used in the study.

Thus, the average number of meetings per county board is 37.4. Under terms of legislation adopted in 2001, county boards of education members can be compensated for attending up to 50 meetings per year. Four county boards exceeded the 50-meeting threshold. They include the Cabell, Kanawha, Mercer and Raleigh county boards. The Boone and Brooke county boards met 50 times.

County-by-county responses are:

Berkeley County Board of Education: Boone County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 11
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 35

 

Regular meetings: 23
Special meetings: 27
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 50

 

Braxton County Board of Education: Brooke County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 8
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 32

 

Regular meetings: 23
Special meetings: 27
Emergency meetings:0
Total: 50

 

Cabell County Board of Education: Clay County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 21
Special meetings: 33
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 54

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 2
Emergency meetings: 1
Total: 27

 

Doddridge County Board of Education: Gilmer County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 12
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 36

 

Regular meetings: 12
Special meetings: 3
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 15

 

Grant County Board of Education: Greenbrier County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 12
Special meetings: 13
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 25

 

Regular meetings: 12
Special meetings: 20
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 32

 

Hampshire County Board of Education: Hardy County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 12
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 36

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 10
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 36

 

Harrison County Board of Education: Jackson County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 20
Special meetings: 26
Emergency meetings: 2
Total: 48

 

Regular meetings: 27
Special meetings: 5
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 32

 

Jefferson County Board of Education: Kanawha County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 23
Special meetings: 17
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 40

 

Regular meetings: 52
Special meetings: 5
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 57

 

Lewis County Board of Education: Lincoln County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 11
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 35

 

Regular meetings: 34
Special meetings: 5
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 39

 

Logan County Board of Education: Marion County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 11
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 35

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 18
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 42

 

Marshall County Board of Education: Mason County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 18
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 42

 

Regular meetings: 34
Special meetings: 10
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 44

 

McDowell County Board of Education: Mercer County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 21
Special meetings: 14
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 35

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 32
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 56

 

Mineral County Board of Education: Mingo County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 13
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 37

 

Regular meetings: 12
Special meetings: 8
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 20

 

Monongalia County Board of Education: Monroe County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 15
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 39

 

Regular meetings: 19
Special meetings: 14
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 33

 

Morgan County Board of Education: Nicholas County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 22
Special meetings: 6
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 28

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 20
Emergency meetings: 2
Total: 46

 

Ohio County Board of Education: Pleasants County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 15
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 39

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 4
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 28

 

Pocahontas County Board of Education: Preston County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 10
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 34

 

Regular meetings: 20
Special meetings: 10
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 30

 

Putnam County Board of Education: Raleigh County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 23
Special meetings: 2
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 25

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 33
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 57

 

Randolph County Board of Education:
Ritchie County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 19
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 43

 

Regular meetings: 22
Special meetings: 6
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 28

 

Roane County Board of Education: Summers County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 4
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 28

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 12
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 36

 

Taylor County Board of Education: Tyler County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 23
Special meetings: 16
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 39

 

Regular meetings: 26
Special meetings: 3
Emergency meetings: 1
Total: 30

 

Upshur County Board of Education: Wayne County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 25
Special meetings: 6
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 31

 

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 24
Emergency meetings: 1
Total: 49

 

Webster County Board of Education: Wetzel County Board of Education:

Regular meetings: 24
Special meetings: 24
Emergency meetings: 1
Total: 49

 

Regular meetings: 22
Special meetings: 12
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 34

 

Wood County Board of Education:  

Regular meetings: 26
Special meetings: 18
Emergency meetings: 0
Total: 44

 

 

In terms of Senate Bill 562 and House Bill 4597, the legislation would have made the following changes in statutes regarding county board member compensation:

  1. §18-2-26 simply would delete county board member compensation from this section. Current compensation is set at $100 per meeting for up to 15 meetings per year.
  2. §18-5-1a would add language stating “a member must satisfy the annual training requirement regardless of whether he or she is compensated for the training (as per §18-5-4 which this measure amends to permit such).
  3. §18-5-4 Would make several changes, namely:
    • Members could receive up to $200 per meeting or training session attended. Currently, pay is set at $160 per meeting.
       
    • In any one fiscal year, county board members could receive the revised pay of not more than $200 meeting with a cap of 50 meetings.
       
    • In cases of a district or districts having a net student enrollment of more than 20,000 students, the revised pay of not more than $200 per meeting is capped at 65 meetings. Again, the pay range would be from $160 - $200. (As I understand that applies to Kanawha County but may soon apply to Berkeley County.)
       
    • In the case of pay for training it could range from $160 to $200.
       
    • The state board of education ultimately would decide by legislative rule how “session” is defined.
       
    • The bill has this language as well:  “(1) Before July 1 of the fiscal year in which the compensation rate is increased, the board must determine from fiscal information provided by its superintendent that compensation at the greater rate is fiscally responsible.
       
    • “(2) Each board member in office on the effective date of the compensation increase who desires to receive compensation at the greater rate must file with the superintendent the member's agreement to accept the compensation increase: Provided, That the compensation rate of a member who fails to file the written agreement shall, until the member vacates the office or the member's term of office expires, whichever first occurs, be the compensation rate in effect for members of the board immediately prior to the effective date of the increase.
       
    • “(3) If in the board's judgment there are insufficient revenues to pay compensation at the greater rate and any related employment taxes, then the compensation rate for the board's members shall remain the same as when the fiscal analysis was undertaken in accordance with the provisions of this subsection: Provided, That a board having made this determination may review the same on or before July 1 of the ensuing fiscal year. If after subsequent review the board determines there are sufficient revenues to provide the increase in compensation, the board, subject to the procedures of this subsection, may agree to do so: Provided, however, That no such increase in compensation may be retroactive to the effective date of this statute.”
       
    • County board members who serve on an administrative council for a multicounty vocational center may receive compensation for attending up to 12 meetings of the council at the “same rate as for meetings of the county board.”
       
    • County board members who serve on a regional council of a multicounty Regional Education Service Agency could receive compensation for attending up to 15 meetings of the council at the “same rate as for meetings of the county board.”
       
    • The above meetings – administrative council and RESA council – are not counted as board meetings for purposes of determining the limit on compensable board meetings.

      Listed below is the history of the last pay increases county board members received:
       
    • In 1999, House Bill 3025 amended W. Va. Code § 18-5-4 to increase to $100 (from $60) the maximum allowable per-meeting compensation of county board members.  It also increased to 60 (from 52) the maximum number of meetings in one fiscal year for which compensation may be paid.  It was effective July 1, 1999.

      Here is a link to HB 3025 as enacted: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_tex.
       
    • In 2000, House Bill 4413 amended  W. Va. Code §  18-2-16(l) to cap the compensation of county board members serving on RESA boards at $100 per meeting attended, not to exceed 15 meetings per year.  The legislation was effective from passage on March 9, 2000.

      Here is a link to HB 4413 as enacted:  http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_tex
       
    • In 2001, House Bill 2722 amended W. Va. Code § 18-5-4(e) to increase to $160 (from $100) the maximum allowable per-meeting compensation of county board members.  It also decreased to 50 (from 60) the maximum number of meetings in one fiscal year for which compensation may be paid.  Finally, the legislation capped the compensation of county board members as members serving on multi-county vocational center administrative councils at $160 per meeting attended, not to exceed 12 meetings per year.  The bill was effective from passage on April 13, 2001.

      Here is a link to HB 2722 as enacted:  http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_tex

      Here is an electronic link to the bill: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Bill_Status/bills_tex

 


Study considerations:

* Special county board meetings held. Special county board meetings, for purposes of this survey, also mean “statutorily-required” meetings.

* Under terms of W. Va. Code §6-9A-2,  "Emergency meeting" means any meeting called by a governing body for the purpose of addressing an unexpected event which requires immediate attention because it poses:

  1. An imminent threat to public health or safety;
  2. An imminent threat of damage to public or private property; or
  3. An imminent material financial loss or other imminent substantial harm to a public agency, its employees or the members of the public which it serves.”

Note That Code definition was provided in legislation that became effective after July 1, 2013.

* The information provided makes no assumption concerning the number of members present for these various meetings. A quorum of members, however, is required in order for the county board to meet, quorum being considered three members as per W. Va. Code §18-5-4.

Howard O’Cull is executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Members of the Commission on School District Governance and Administration have accepted a proposal from Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, to hold a two-day retreat at which they could get better understanding of student population trends so they could plan better for the delivery of education services in the future. That retreat is tentatively set for March 27 and 28 in Lewisburg.

The proposal came at Wednesday’s commission meeting, which was devoted to considering two of several recommendations the commission had developed after a series of meetings last year. One recommendation calls for using Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) ‘as hubs for shared educational services to school districts in areas such as technology support, Title III programs, personnel decisions, sign language interpreters and service personnel testing.” The other recommendation calls for the state school board to “implement incentives for districts to work on cooperative building projects.

O’Cull gave the commission a review of efforts by the legislature and others over the past few decades to address problems related to the decline in student population in most of West Virginia’s school districts. Among those efforts was a 1989 law that allowed school boards to share administrative services. Although O’Cull was not aware of any boards that have used that section of code, he said some boards have made individual arrangement with each other.

Last summer, the WVSBA brought board members and superintendents together in regional meetings to explore what services could be shared. It was a rigid, formalized process, O’Cull said, so on September 13, the association followed up by bringing 25 people from across the state together. That group made 15 overarching recommendations, he said, but more work needs to be done.

There is a lot of information about the decline in school population but not much on how to put that information into action, O’Cull said. The commission should look at potential shifts in population trends to see where schools and services will be needed, he suggested, and then it should decide how to address the problems.

Tom Campbell, the state school board member who is chairman of the commission, said he would love to see the “big picture.” He noted that West Virginia traditionally has been in the bottom five states in academic achievement. He would like to flip that so the state is in the top five, which he believes would help keep young people from leaving the state.

“If we know where we’re trying to go, it’s easier to get there.” – Tom Campbell

“If we know where we’re trying to go, it’s easier to get there,” Campbell said.

Commission member Newt Thomas said he favored going beyond the commission’s charge to deal with school districts to deal instead with the whole education system. “I think it makes all of the sense in the world to have fewer districts and have them more capable of serving and funding the schools that they’re charged with,” he said. Campbell reminded him that the state school board has given the commission has wide latitude to consider just about anything.

O’Cull then suggested that, after commission members would get the information about student population trends, they could then get into how to provide the services students will need, and that would get into the issue of governance.

“You’re probably going to get into governance where services and service provision may not be the role of the local board so much as it’s a regional role with the local board ensuring that services, if they’re derived regionally, are equitably given out in the county.” – Howard O’Cull

“When you get into governance, you’re going to get into probably a different type of governance than we have now,” he said. “You’re probably going to get into governance where services and service provision may not be the role of the local board so much as it’s a regional role with the local board ensuring that services, if they’re derived regionally, are equitably given out in the county.”

That would mean still having elected people in each county to respond to the needs of the citizens, O’Cull said, but boards would have different roles that are more into monitoring, oversight and equity and less into approving administrative agendas. “School board members realize things in the future are probably going to have to change given the economic state that we are in and where we seem to be headed,” he said. Divorcing policymakers from service delivery would still leave people at the local level to represent the public and set policy, he said.

Campbell agreed that West Virginia always will have local school boards, but technology could be used to consolidate some functions of school districts. For example, he said, payroll could be handled in Charleston.

RESAs have provided many benefits to school districts, Campbell said, but they haven’t lived up to their potential to deliver services in more efficient ways. He said it would be better to arrange for more shared services among counties than to consolidate school districts. The state already has centralized some education functions that shouldn’t have been centralized and decentralized some things that should not have been decentralized.

Commission member Harry Shaffer said the commission’s charter from the state school board gives it wide latitude. He said there are good reasons to look for more efficient ways to provide educational services.

But Campbell advised fellow commission members that there is some urgency to developing reforms for the education system. He noted that the state school board’s decision to charter the commission derived from an initiative of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. So he suggested that the commission might be limited by Tomblin’s term, which has less than three years left.

O’Cull told the commission that a WVSBA survey shows that boards spend only about 8 percent of their “outputs” (not time per se)  on policy issues and the rest on administrative issues. Campbell said superintendents also spend too much of their time on administrative issues. O’Cull gave the commission a report from the WVSBA with a series of recommendations for reforms. He said the bottom line is to take boards out of day-to-day functions of school districts so they can deal with the bigger picture.

O’Cull concluded his remarks with a quotation from George Bernard Shaw:  “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress then depends on unreasonable people.” He said WVSBA members are not threatened by the future but West Virginia leaders need to plan for it.

 

RESAs could do more.

As the commission discussed the role of RESAs, O’Cull noted that some legislators were planning to look into RESAs’ roles and whether they have overreached in some cases. But he said, “This commission is the only body that I think is independent enough and not saddled with interests that could really carry that forward and make some strong recommendations.”

Campbell agreed that RESAs need to be part of the discussion. He had come to the commission’s meeting after a meeting in the governor’s office, where he reported there is a lot of concerned about education reform, even though the budget is tight. However, he said, tight financial times aren’t all bad, because they sometimes can force people to find better ways to do things. “Timing is everything,” he said.

When Thomas asked whether RESAs fit into an education system that is efficient, Mark Manchin, executive director of the School Building Authority, said the size and services of RESAs should be revisited. He is both a former RESA employee and a former state senator. He suggested that the commission could ask the legislature to clarify the RESAs’ roles. Campbell added that the state school board has a lot of authority over RESAs that it hasn’t exerted in the past.

 

New project shows how districts can share.

The main purpose for having Manchin and others at the commission’s meeting was to review one example of sharing between two school districts. Leading Creek Elementary School is now under construction right on the border between Lewis and Gilmer counties to replace older schools nearby in both counties.

“We’re extremely pleased with the process and the progress in Lewis and Gilmer counties,” Manchin said. The superintendents helped bring the communities together to make the project possible, he said, and the memorandum of understanding for that project could serve as a boilerplate for potential agreements between other counties.

The School Building Authority attempted to reach a similar agreement between Mason and Putnam counties, Manchin said, but it ran into a barrier to overcome: the politics of having three Mason County board members running for re-election. However, he said, he thinks the Mason County board has left the door open for a future agreement.

Campbell said some school board members would be afraid of having a school for their students located in another county. Manchin agreed that is a hard issue to overcome. Campbell said it would help for people to see the Lewis-Gilmer project work.

“Change is never easy,” Manchin said. Although House Bill 3160, which the legislature passed last year, provides some flexibility in the school funding formula, many people still have questions, he said. He said his agency is at other counties for similar projects. For example, he said, Jumping Branch Elementary in Summers County is just several miles from Shady Springs in Raleigh County, so an inter-county project could work there.

“You can’t have a winner and a loser.” – Mark Manchin

When Campbell asked whether changes made in the School Aid Formula are enough, Manchin said it should be revisited to provide more incentives that would help districts overcome political obstacles. “You can’t have a winner and a loser,” he said. For years, the School Building Authority has been allowed to give more points for inter-county projects, but that provision had not been used until the Lewis-Gilmer project came up, he said.

Commission member Bill Smith, superintendent of the Cabell County schools, suggested that the School Building Authority should put together a list of potential inter-county projects. Manchin called that an excellent idea, which his agency would do. Campbell said it would be good to have that list ready for the March 12 state school board meeting.

Lewis County Supt. Joe Mace said there were environmental reasons to close one of the schools being replaced by Leading Creek Elementary, because it would cost about $400,000 to make repairs to a very old facility. The Gilmer County school board initially was behind the project, he said, but politics changed there and had to be overcome.

Leaders in both counties realized that many of their teachers had never visited new schools, so they took them bus tours to see three new schools. Mace said that helped them realize what they could have, and they came together as a team. They were told the inter-county school was a way for them to keep a neighborhood school and not have to consolidate with schools farther away, he said.

Campbell said it is important to establish a team effort when trying to work across county lines. Mace said that when boards and people work together, they can make projects like  Leading Creek Elementary happen.

Manchin said it’s impossible to a school in West Virginia for less than $10 million. Leading Creek will cost $11 million to $12 million, he said, but it would have cost twice as much to build two schools. “I think that any recommendation to the governor has to require the School Building Authority to incentivize and ask that the School Building Authority promulgate rules as to how they would address the inter-county relationships,” he said. “We’re going to continue to encourage counties to look at this first.”

Finally, he said, “I think broadly you can’t have a winner and a loser, and I think you must incentivize. The natural agency to incentivize is the School Building Authority.”

 

Career-tech centers offer model for cooperation among counties.

To get an understanding of another example of inter-county cooperation, the commission also invited two directors of career-technical centers that serve more than one county.

Ben Cummings, director of the Roane-Jackson Technical Center, said schools in general spend too much time fulfilling code requirements and doing too much administrative stuff. But vocational centers like his can make things happen more quickly by being multi-county operations. When teachers need something that can be paid for out of the budget, he said, he sees that they get it within days or weeks, not months, as is common in other schools.

“I think as far as making things happen quickly, we’re a better model than a county board of education, at least in a large county where there’s lots of layers of folks,” Cummings said.

Commission member Doug Lambert, superintendent of the Pendleton County schools, said tech centers are like islands. “This is a perfect model and it works,” he said.

Cummings explained that students at his school are 71 percent from Jackson County and 29 percent from Roane County, so funding of formula positions is split that way. Purchasing flows through Jackson County, where the school is located, but he has more flexibility than principals of most schools and he controls his budget, he said.

However, Cummings said, if one or both counties would lose population and must downsize, superintendents sometimes look to the vocational school to make cuts. Also, levy funds are an issue, especially if one county has a levy and the other doesn’t, he said. Roane County doesn’t have a levy, but Jackson County has a large levy.

Ryan Haught, director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Technical Institute, said his school is located in Pleasants County and also serves Ritchie, Tyler and Wetzel counties. All of those counties have been losing population, he said. They have six high schools, all but one are single-A now and the other is one of the smallest double-A schools, he said, but all of the counties have support for the center built into their levies.

The School Aid Formula is a concern, Haught said. He worries that districts won’t like it if the number of students at the center grows while the numbers in their high schools decline, he said. Cummings added that there is potential for turf battles.

Haught said studies show that 98 percent of career-technical education students who complete a program become high school graduates. To that, Lambert said, “I want kids to be successful, and I think we have to start getting out of our mindset that college is the only place for a kid to go to.” He added that Gov. Tomblin is putting money for embedded credits at career-tech centers, so that should open the doors for even more kids to go to them.

The biggest issue Haught said his school faces is distance. Some of the students must endure hour-long bus rides, he said, so the school is looking into having virtual classes to cut down on some of that travel. One or two high schools might pilot the project, he said.

West Virginia has seven multi-county tech centers, serving 22 counties, Cummings said.

 

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.