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February 18, 2016 — Volume 36 Issue 6

 

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

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee has developed a School Aid Formula bill that would give counties more flexibility and leave them with more funding than one proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said in reference to the governor’s bill, “We have looked at [House Bill] 4269 and found it lacking.” Instead of moving forward with House Bill 4269, the subcommittee came up with House Bill 4466, which takes a different approach to the School Aid Formula.

That approach received an endorsement from Chris Campbell, treasurer for the Putnam County schools. Sam Sentelle, president of the West Virginia School Board Association and vice president of the Putnam County school board, brought Campbell to the subcommittee Wednesday to give members the perspective of someone who must handle provisions of the School Aid Formula directly.

Campbell said House Bill 4269 would have a big effect on school districts, partly by codifying mid-year budget cuts the governor made this year and making them permanent.

“My biggest issue, I guess, with this particular bill is that it’s telling us how to cut,” he said. “It’s cutting specific items.”

Districts should have more flexibility over where to make cuts, Campbell said. “Each county is different, and some of us can afford to cut in personnel easier than others or some people can cut in transportation,” he said. “Some people cut in some of the other restricted monies easier.”

Under the governor’s bill, some counties would have funding for service personnel decrease while others would have it increase, he said.

“It doesn’t appear that any school board really is going to be harmed in that one. Some boards will receive some benefits, but others may not.” – Chris Campbell

Campbell said he is much more comfortable with House Bill 4466. “It doesn’t appear that any school board really is going to be harmed in that one,” he said. “Some boards will receive some benefits, but others may not.”

That bill seems to be much more favorable for all school boards, Campbell said. “One of the things I like on this one is it removes the penalty if you are actually more efficient and maybe a little under formula on your professionals or your service personnel,” he said.

“The other thing that I think is very beneficial in this bill is the allowance for counties to utilize up to $200,000 of that bus replacement money, if needed and with approval, for other areas.” – Chris Campbell

One aspect he likes is that the bill would give counties more flexibility in Step 7 with instructional technology programs, allowing districts to use some of the money to employ technology systems specialists. Until now, districts have had to come up with funding for them through other methods, Campbell said. It also would leave in a one-year reduction in bus replacement money without making it permanent, he said.

“The other thing that I think is very beneficial in this bill is the allowance for counties to utilize up to $200,000 of that bus replacement money, if needed and with approval, for other areas.” As a treasurer, he said, he would ask for that kind of flexibility to base the budget on the county’s need.

 

Maintenance costs would be handled differently.

Dave Mohr, counsel for the House Education Committee and drafter of the bill, said another change it would make is that allocations for maintenance expenses would be based on a state average cost per square foot per student rather than 10 percent of a district’s salaries. Each district would get 70 percent of the calculated amount, he said. It would be cost neutral, he said, with some counties would losing a little and others gaining a little. The current method of basing maintenance allocations on salaries is unrelated to the size of buildings that must be maintained, he said.

Duke agreed that basing maintenance allocations on salaries has problems. In districts in which many highly experienced teachers retire and are replaced with younger teachers with less experience, the amount of money allocated in the formula for maintenance drops tremendously even though they have the same buildings to maintain, he said.

Mohr said the bill also would avoid penalizing districts that are either more efficient in allocating resources for certain positions or have unfilled positions. They would not lose funding for such positions the next year, he said.

In regard to the changes in Step 7 allocations that Campbell praised, Mohr said, the bill would allow 5 percent of funding for general improvement to be moved into technology. He said it also would increase the base amount that each county gets for technology from $30,000 to $50,000 and then would allow districts to hire technology systems specialists from the technology money. A district could hire at least one specialist or one per 1,000 students, whichever is greater, he said.

Joe Panetta, chief operations officer for the Education Department, agreed that the bill would provide boards with more flexibility in funding. Some districts could contract with individuals for certain work without employing them and avoid falling below funding limits, he said. For example, two or more districts could contract for sharing the services of a speech pathologist or an audiologist.

Amy Willard, executive director of school finance, said the governor’s bill would save the state $14.8 million. House Bill 4466, as it was introduced, would cost $427,116, she said, but that was before the Step 7 changes were made. Those changes would save the state about $3.7 million, but other changes would bring the savings to about $3 million, she said.

The subcommittee’s approval of House Bill 4466 sends it to the full House Education Committee. Duke said he expected the committee to approve it Friday morning so that it could go to the House Finance Committee on Saturday.

 

House Bill 4269 and Senate Bill 452  were introduced by request of the governor to continue the one percent mid-year reduction in FY16 state aid to schools, transferring this into FY17.

Rather than reducing each county board proportionally as was done during the current year, the bill uses  a “balanced approached,” impacting multiple steps in the state school aid formula. 

Additionally, the proposed legislation would revise funding limits for professional and service personnel for each of the four classes based on student population density, with the limits for the larger districts being decreased by a larger amount than the limits for smaller districts. In fact, the limits for the sparse and low student population districts are being increased. This proposal is based on considerations regarding expressed in recent years, namely that the difference in the funding limits as established in 2008 between the four groups do not provide sufficient funding for the smaller districts.

The proposed changes to the funding limits are:

For Professional Educators (Step 1):

  • Sparse student population density     - Increase of 0.50/1,000 students;
  • Low student population density        - Increase of 0.15/1,000 students;
  • Medium student population density  - Decrease of 0.45/1,000 students;
  • High student population density        - Decrease of 0.80/1,000 students.

For Service Personnel (Step 2):

  • Sparse student population density     - Increase of 0.82/1,000 students;
  • Low student population density        - Increase of 0.40/1,000 students;
  • Medium student population density  - Decrease of 0.03/1,000 students;
  • High student population density       - Decrease of 0.22/1,000 students.

The bills also propose decreasing the allowance percentage for the replacement of buses from 8.33% per year to 6.67%, which effectively extends the bus replacement cycle from 12 to 15 years, increasing the mileage for the full allowance for the replacement of each bus to 225,000, and capping the replacement allowance for each bus at 15 years.

Additionally, the bills propose reducing the allowance for Step 7a for the improvement of instructional programs by $3,799,302.

Finally, the bills propose deleting the provision of the Growth County School Facilities Act and eliminating the special adjustment to local share for the county boards that qualify and transfer a portion of their property taxes to this special fund for use in the construction, maintenance or repair of school facilities.

Editor’s Note: Information provided by various sources.

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Senate this week approved one bill to benefit home-schoolers and another one is on track for passage by early next week.

Senate Bill 105 would provide that students being taught at home or by private tutors, or enrolled in private, parochial or church schools or schools operated by religious orders may participate in extracurricular activities, including sports teams of public schools. It is called the Tim Tebow Act after a former University of Florida football player who was home-schooled.

The bill was subject to extensive discussion when the Senate Education Committee considered it, and several senators still expressed concerns about it before the Senate approved it on a vote of 58 to eight on Wednesday. They were concerned about such issues as making sure home-schooled students would meet the same academic qualifications as public school students and handling discipline issues fairly. Another concern was to avoid letting parents take their children out of public schools over problems such as truancy but still letting the students participate on sports teams.

However, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, defended the bill as a matter of “fundamental fairness.” He has home-schooled his children. 

“This is about correcting a discrimination that’s ongoing in our system today against a group of kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to participate in a sports activity or another extracurricular activity. What I would submit is that the opponents of this bill ought to set aside their prejudices and give these kids a chance to compete” – Sen. Robert Karnes

“This is about correcting a discrimination that’s ongoing in our system today against a group of kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to participate in a sports activity or another extracurricular activity,” Karnes said. “What I would submit is that the opponents of this bill ought to set aside their prejudices and give these kids a chance to compete.”

The senators who voted against the bill were: Bob Beach, R-Monongalia; Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; Bill Laird, D-Fayette; Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson; Ron Stollings, D-Boone; Bob Williams, D-Taylor; and Jack Yost, D-Brooke. Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, was absent.

The other bill affecting home-schooled students and their parents that is making its way through the Senate is House Bill 4175. It would relax requirements on people who home-school their children. The House passed the bill on February 2 on a vote of 80 to 18 with two delegates absent.

When it came from the House, one of the changes the bill called for would be to remove the requirement that the person providing the home-schooling must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. However, Plymale said he had spoken with home-school supporters in his district who said they had no problem requiring home-school instructors to have high school education or the equivalent. Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, proposed an amendment to require home-school instructors to have a high school diploma or the equivalent or a degree from a regionally accredited college or university. After much discussion, the committee approved that change in the bill.

However, Romano failed to get approval for another amendment. He wanted to alter a provision that would change the law’s current requirement to submit a child’s assessment results annually to the county superintendent. Instead, if the bill would become law, home-schoolers would be required to submit the results only in grades three, five, eight and 11 by June 30 in the year of each assessment. He said he had heard from home-schooling parents who want to keep the annual requirement.

“To make sure we don’t allow kids to fall through the cracks to allow them to go three years before they’re assessed and be able to catch ones that are not properly educated children…I would return to the annual assessment.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“To make sure we don’t allow kids to fall through the cracks to allow them to go three years before they’re assessed and be able to catch ones that are not properly educated children…I would return to the annual assessment,” Romano argued. “The assessment’s required to be prepared annually anyways, and we’re simply talking about providing that to a county superintendent to make sure that that assessment is being done and done properly.”

But Karnes argued against it, saying the assessments are primarily for the benefit of the parents. He said West Virginia tends to place no higher than 48th among the states on national achievement tests. “There are roughly 35 states that do not require any annual reporting, and by default, that means at least 33 of them are scoring higher than we are on our national achievement tests,” Karnes said. “It’s not necessary and just contributes to the overall burden that is place on home-schoolers. As a home-schooler, I can tell you the burden is significant.”

That amendment failed in the committee with only five votes in favor of it and nine against it.

Among other provisions, House Bill 4175 would:

  • Change the notice of intent for home-schooling from annually to one time per student.
  • Eliminate the requirement for students enrolled in public schools to provide notice at least two weeks prior to withdrawal. The notice would have to include assurance that a child will receive instruction in core subjects and be assessed annually.
  • Delete the requirement to annually specify a child’s grade level and submit a plan of instruction for the ensuing year.
  • Establish a new provision to require parents or guardians to retain copies of students’ academic assessments for three years.
  • Require tests to be administered in accordance with the published conditions and guidelines for the tests.
  • Remove the prohibition on allowing a student’s parent or guardian to administer tests.
  • Change the measure of a child’s performance on the tests to stanine groups rather than percentile scores and require them to be in or above the fourth stanine instead of at or above the 50th percentile.

The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 4175 on a divided voice vote. It was scheduled for the first of three required readings on the Senate floor today. 

 

Procedure to remove school board members would change.

Another bill the Senate approved Wednesday is Senate Bill 267, which would change the procedure for removing certain county, school district and municipal officers. Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, explained that, under current law, a petition for removal requires the signature of only 25 voters. He said the bill would change that to 2,000 voters or 10 percent of registered voters, whichever is less. It also would create a screening process at the circuit court level by giving a circuit judge authority to determine the validity of the documents. If they are valid, the Supreme Court would appoint a three-judge panel to hear the charges.

The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 32 to one with Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, casting the lone vote against it.

One bill on the Senate’s calendar for a vote as early as today is Senate Bill 400. The purpose of the bill is to reduce the amount of sales tax proceeds dedicated to the School Major Improvement Fund by $999,996 for fiscal year 2017 and to reduce the amount of sales tax proceeds dedicated to the School Construction Fund by $3 million for fiscal year 2017.

A bill that would change the definition of instructional days could have passed as early as Wednesday, but it has been held over for two days, meaning the earliest it could pass now would be Friday. Senate Bill 313 was written to change the mandatory school instructional days from 180 days to minutes over a period of 180 days based upon the minimum amount of hours of instruction offered to students provided by state board rules. But as Hank Hager, counsel for the Senate Education Committee, explained the rewritten version of the bill, which the committee approved last week, it would allow limited use of accrued instructional time when it is not possible for school districts to hold 180 separate days of instruction.

“It does limit the use of accrued instructional time to the amount that’s necessary to avoid scheduling instruction on any day after the last day of instruction that was originally scheduled in the school calendar,” he said. “It also prohibits accrued instruction time from being used until all available non-instructional, out-of-calendar days occurring before the last instructional day as originally scheduled have been used.”

The bill also would allow the state school board to promulgate an emergency rule, if necessary, to deal with calendar scheduling problems, Hager said.

Another bill the Senate Education Committee approved this week and sent to the full Senate is Senate Bill 488. It would require the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to develop rules to manage hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and to require an emergency action plan at all athletic activities.  It has been labeled “Leland’s Law.”

The committee had one public education bill on its agenda for today. Senate Bill 458 is the Senate version of legislation proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It would create Innovation in Education designated schools, which would demonstrate innovation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), community school partnership, entrepreneurship or career pathways. It would create the Innovation in Education Fund and terminate funding for Innovation Zones and Local Solution Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zones after June 30, 2016.

The House Education Committee already has approved the House version of that legislation from the governor, House Bill 4295.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee gave approval this week to bills that would change the Innovation Zones program, the way school districts get instructional materials, the way salary equity is handled and instructional standards for early childhood education.

On Wednesday, the committee approved House Bill 4295, which was proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to create Innovation in Education-designated schools. They would demonstrate innovation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), community school partnership, entrepreneurship or career pathways. The bill would provide for components and requirements of Innovation in Education plans, as well as evaluations of Innovation in Education schools. It would permit amendments to and suspension of Innovation in Education plan components when goals are not met. Additionally, the state school board would be authorized to terminate Innovation in Education school designations. The bill would create the Innovation in Education Fund and terminate funding for the current Innovation Zones and Local Solution Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zones after June 30, 2016.

“Innovation Zones can be established by counties, and there will be more or less a clearinghouse of innovation ideas, so that all counties can find out what other counties are doing and may want to model an Innovation Zone after that.” – Del. Walter Duke

Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said two things would happen under that legislation. “Innovation Zones can be established by counties, and there will be more or less a clearinghouse of innovation ideas, so that all counties can find out what other counties are doing and may want to model an Innovation Zone after that,” he said.  The other possibility is that the state school board might find that certain changes work so well that it would adopt them into policies for all schools.

The committee approved House Bill 4295 and sent it to the House Finance Committee.

Another bill approved by the House Education Committee is House Bill 4445, which would update the provisions of the code addressing the adoption of instructional resources. The bill includes the following provisions:

  1. A definition of “instructional resources”;
  2. A requirement for publishers of electronic textbooks to file certain statements with the state superintendent of schools concerning wholesale pricing;
  3. Establishment of certain procedures to be taken if a publisher would breach a contract in relation to the provision of instructional resources;
  4. A prohibition preventing any county board of education from using instructional resources furnished by a publisher who has not complied with the requirements of the legislation;
  5. A provision that supplementary instructional resources do not apply to the legislation’s requirements;
  6. A requirement for county boards of education to furnish necessary instructional resources to students free of charge; and
  7. A prohibition against allowing employees of boards of education to act as sales agents for any provider of instructional resources.

The bill also would repeal a section that addresses persons who provide gifts and bribes to influence adoption of instructional resources. Under current law, that constitutes a felony.

Duke said the bill would save money by allowing items to be shipped directly to districts rather than first going to a central location.

Dave Mohr, counsel to the committee, said, “The adoption of instructional resources is probably one of the areas that has the most frequent requests from county boards for waivers, particularly when you get into electronic resources.”

 

Committee has difficulty fixing long-standing equity problem.

The committee spent much time figuring out how to deal with salary equity. House Bill 4465 would attempt to fix a process that has been out of whack for many years, giving some districts more than their rightful share of state funding and depriving others. The situation perplexed committee members who discussed it and considered alternatives for more than an hour. As it was introduced, the bill would eliminate the mathematical definition of salary equity and require the state school board, when it determines equity is not being met, to recommend to the governor and legislature any legislation or method necessary to achieve it and include sufficient funding in its budget request.

Mohr explained that the bill would amend a section of code established in 1984 to address a problem with a wide range of salary supplements that school districts were able to pay. It was the result of a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs who contended that Lincoln County could not provide the same quality of education as other counties. The case was decided by Circuit Judge Arthur Recht and led to not only a requirement for salary equity among the counties but also the creation of the School Building Authority and funding for computers for basic skills. In 1990, the code was amended to include an automatic estimator of when counties were in equity, Mohr said. The current definition is there cannot be more than a 10 percent difference between the average salaries of the highest 10 counties and those of the lowest counties.

“Part of the problem with the current statute is that counties get equity based on what they had in place in 1984,” Mohr said, but many counties were not as developed then and population patterns have changes. He cited Berkeley County as a good example because it has grown substantially in recent years. But, he said, such districts continue to get equity payments based on what they had in 1984, while other counties, such as Pleasants, which were more prosperous back then and had high salary supplements, get very little in equity funding.

Mohr said the bill would remove the automatic definition for determining equity. Instead, he said, it would recognize what districts are able to pay in terms of salary and benefits when equity payments are determined. Eight of the current highest-paying counties were among those that received the highest equity payments in 1984, he said.

“To actually pay equity, you got to bring up the salary schedule and pass a bill that pays an equity adjustment to a limited class of people when, in fact, you’re eliminating positions on the other end of the bill.” – Del. George Ambler

“That’s how broke it is,” Mohr said. “It’s based on a calculation that really doesn’t reflect the current landscape so far as what counties can and do raise through their own money to pay county supplements, They’re getting higher county supplements but also getting equity because they did have one [32 years ago].”

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said, “So failure to address this issue could, in effect, negate the positive impact of a future pay increase. Is that a fair statement?”

“I think it would consume the money that is necessary to do so,” Mohr said. “Ignoring it is just digging a deeper hole. It needs to be fixed.”

Asked how often the provision has been used to adjust equity, he said not often. “Professionals have never been out of equity on the current definition,” Mohr said. “It’s only been service personnel. My recollection is that we did it once, and I think we were also doing a regular pay raise at that time and just put some of it toward equity but not enough.”

Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, noted that money for the equity adjustment is in the budget for next fiscal year, but that could evaporate because of the tightness of the budget. Mohr said passing just House Bill 4465 would not be enough. “To actually pay equity, you got to bring up the salary schedule and pass a bill that pays an equity adjustment to a limited class of people when, in fact, you’re eliminating positions on the other end of the bill,” he said.

Duke said West Virginia maintains more equity among salaries than most other states. “Delaware has three counties, and they probably have more salary disparity than does West Virginia that has 55 counties,” he said. 

Mohr said that’s accurate because the Recht decision attempted to reduce salary difference among counties, and the differences that exist are the result of excess levies. “It was a way to try to compensate for differences in excess levies without discouraging people from continuing to pass them,” he said.

Duke said, “So if we do nothing, the problem will get worse.” If $10 million appears, it could be sucked up into equity instead of an across-the-board salary increase, he said. Mohr agreed that is the potential result. Duke then suggested that legislators could do what is proposed in the bill or the state could put pressure on the counties that are wealthier and face the greatest housing costs and cross-border salary competition to get them not to give pay raises to help avoid putting the state out of equity. Mohr said there is some precedent for that because, in 1984, all the top counties were frozen from granting additional pay raises until 1990.

“So we created this thing in 1984, which is now handcuffing us.” – Delegate Walter Duke

“So we created this thing in 1984, which is now handcuffing us,” Duke said. “What we could do is to juggle the adjusting current formula.” He suggested that instead of requiring the differences in salaries to be no greater than a 10 percent variation from the average of the top 10 counties that could be changed to no greater than 15 percent. That could alleviate the problem and provide some breathing room, he said. Mohr said the House Education Committee proposed doing that last year, but the proposal was pulled from consideration by the full House of Delegates.

Equity was once based on the average of the top five counties rather than the top 10, so Duke suggested that legislators also could relieve the pressure by changing it to the top 15 counties.  Mohr said there are several ways to tinker with the formula to get out of the problem. He said the formula doesn’t count housing allowances or good dental and optical benefits as salary. Duke said legislators could consider juggling different factors.

“It’s almost like taking a fire extinguisher out when the flames flame up, and you use that new fire extinguisher to dampen the flames for another six months until the flames raise up again, and then you do something else,” he said. “The 55 counties face great disparity – would you not agree? – greater disparity now than they did in 1984.”

There is more disparity in wealth, the amount of levy revenue, population shifts, housing costs, differences in salaries offered by school districts in neighboring states, and in employee benefits, Duke said.

“A lot has changed since 1984 for sure,” Mohr said. “Some of the shifts have been among counties. Some counties that were very prosperous at one point are no longer so. Boone County is one of those top 10 counties. I don’t know that they’ll be for long because of those kinds of shifts in economic activity that generates property wealth. The other things that have changed dramatically in the counties are the shifts in population over time, and I think the legislature did a good job of trying to address that through some economies of scale – things they put in that looked at student population density.”

Delegate Frank Blackwell, D-Wyoming, said legislators are not hearing complaints about the formula. “That formula does try to treat each county as fairly as it possibly can,” he said. “This disparity comes where counties are willing to put more money into the teachers’ salaries and the service personnel’s salaries than what another county may.”

Mohr agreed that the formula is equitable, but the differences come from excess levies and show up more in salaries than anything else. The bill doesn’t dispute that equity is good but says that using the 1984 base is not the best way to go.

Amy Willard, executive director of school finance at the Department of Education, said, “The School Aid Formula is intended to try to treat all of the county boards equitably. So it calculates the total cost to provide a student a thorough and efficient education in the state of West Virginia. From that, it takes into consideration the amount of local regular levy tax dollars each county can contribute towards that total cost to achieve that education, and then the state kicks in the difference, so that all counties receive in total the same amount of general funds to operate the county school system.”

There are 43 counties with excess levies, so they can provide additional salary supplements, she said. But because the salary equity system is based on conditions in 1984, she said, eight of the 10 top counties used to figure the average high salaries receive equity funding on top of what their current salaries are. “So it’s kind of a moving target when we try to come up with what that funding needs to be,” she said.

Based on this year’s salary schedules, salaries for service personnel in the lowest-paying counties are just 89.64 percent rather than 90 percent of the average of the top counties, Willard said. That seems like a small difference, she said, but fixing it would equate to a $41 per month salary increase for service personnel, she said.

“We’re 31 years into this Recht decision, and we’re at the point now where if the members in this committee vote, we’re going to be walking out of here and people are going to be saying we voted to take money away from service personnel who are already underpaid as it is. Why has it come to this? Why has this ball been kicked so much it’s no longer a ball? Why is it we have to deal with this?” – Del. Roy Cooper

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, complained that the department should have done something about the problem 26 years ago. “We’re 31 years into this Recht decision, and we’re at the point now where if the members in this committee vote, we’re going to be walking out of here and people are going to be saying we voted to take money away from service personnel who are already underpaid as it is,” he said. “Why has it come to this? Why has this ball been kicked so much it’s no longer a ball? Why is it we have to deal with this?”

Cooper said he agrees with the intent of the bill but not with what it looks like. Again, he blamed the Education Department.

“I apologize for attacking you, but I’m saying the bureaucracy of the organization to which you belong – I believe in my opinion – has brought us to the point where you are now the victim of my assault,” Cooper said to Willard.

Willard said that passage of the bill actually would leave it up to the state school board to determine when counties are out of equity, although separate legislation would be needed to provide any equity increases. The legislature did not appropriate funds for that purpose last year, she said, and then one or two of the counties in the top 10 gave local salary increases this year. “So even had we fixed the problem last year, then those counties in the top 10 gave an increase again, so we would have fallen right back out of equity,” she said.

Increasing the number of counties to 15 for figuring the average of the top salaries would increase the chances of falling out of equity because there would be more counties that could grant more raises, Willard said.

As delegates considered their options, Willard said the legislature could change the definition of how equity is calculated. House Bill 4465 would make it more subjective and give discretion to the state board, she said, but the legislature could instead change the definition of how equity is determined.

Duke suggested changing the requirement so that the lowest counties’ salaries would have to be just 85 percent of the average of the highest counties rather than 90 percent. Willard responded, “If we changed the definition to 85 percent, then there would be no counties that were out of compliance because now those lowest counties are at 89.64 percent.”

Another solution Duke offered was to allow that to be rounded off to 90 percent. He asked how much it would cost to comply with the code on equity as it now stands. Willard said that cost would be a little more than $6 million, but the governor did not include it in his proposed budget bill.

After all that talk about alternatives, the committee approved House Bill 4465 and sent to the House Finance Committee, giving other delegates the opportunity to ponder the confusing situation and perhaps come up with a different solution.

 

House passes one bill and prepares to pass more.

One education bill received approve from the full House of Delegates by the middle of this week and a few others are close to passage. The House approved House Bill 4291, which would increase penalties for teachers who sexually abuse children with whom they hold positions of trust. The bill also would provide that such teachers convicted of sexually abusing children would be banned from being employed in any capacity in any educational, training, vocational, day care, group home, foster care program or rehabilitation facility in the state. The House approved the bill on a vote of 99 to zero.

Up for potential passage today was House Bill 4467, which would include financial aid planning and completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in secondary school instruction in personal finance.  It also would include in that instruction the objective of building student familiarity with variety of additional free resources such as those offered by the College Foundation of West Virginia to assist families and students plan, apply and pay for education and training beyond high school.

Legislation that the House could pass as early as Friday includes Senate Bill 146, which would establish instruction standards for early childhood education. As the bill was introduced, it would reduce the minimum number of days of instruction to four per week, require a minimum of 1,200 minutes of instruction per week and require a minimum of 146 days of instruction per year. Existing law for the 2016-2017 school year would require instruction five days per week, an instructional day of 300 minutes and 160 instructional days per year.

The Senate changed the bill before passing it and sending it to the House. The new version would require early childhood programs to provide no less than 1,500 minutes of instruction per week in full-day programs with at least 48,000 minutes of instruction annually. That would be 6.25 hours per day over five days a week. It would allow for a four-day week, but each day would have to be longer. A four-day week with more hours per day would require 128 days of instruction.

When the bill was considered by the House Education Committee, Monica DellaMea, executive director of the Office of Early Learning, was asked how many minutes per day kindergarteners attend school. She said it is a minimum of 315 minutes per day. She said the bill would allow early childhood students to put in 375 minutes per day over four days.

“The reason why is because every county early childhood early collaborative team works to meet the best fit for the community in what the needs are of those families,” DellaMea said. A day of 375 minutes would be six hours and 45 minutes, she said, and many programs operate even longer than that.

Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, said that would allow Fridays to be used for collaborative time. DellaMea said some districts use Mondays for that, while some use Fridays, and others have built in time for collaboration in a five-day-a-week model. The bill would allow districts to continue having such flexibility, she said.

“We want to make sure that counties are the ones ultimately determining how and when and where those services are available,” she said.

Delegate Frank Blackwell, D-Wyoming, wanted to know more about what districts with four-day schedules do with the fifth day. DellaMea replied, “On the fifth day, they do a lot with home visiting, with family meetings, with early learning assessments, with planning because typically, if they’re on a four-day model, there may or may not be time in the schedule to allow for daily planning on those other four days.”

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, told the Education Committee that she supported the bill. She has a son with special needs who attended pre-K and said it was important for him and other children to have an extra day off because they would be getting very tired by the end of the week.

“You have to remember also that these teachers have to have planning time plus time to clean the rooms, clean all the toys, those kinds of things, plus there’s IEP [individual education plan] meetings and meetings with families,” Campbell said. “Giving them that option to have it where they could either have it four days or five days, I think, is very beneficial to the needs of the community and to the teachers and to the children and the parents.”

Another bill on schedule to pass in the House as early as Friday is Senate Bill 369, which would reduce requirements for the public education and higher education systems to file reports with the legislature. Certain reports could be combined for efficiency purposes. Also, deadlines could be moved to combine with other deadlines, such as for reporting to the federal government.

House Bill 2474 also could pass in the House as early as Friday. Its purpose to authorize the state school board to establish salary schedules or additional compensation for teachers whose job duties require specialized training and skills or assignments in addition to regular instructional duties.

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By Howard M. O'Cull, Ed. D., West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director

Legislation that would provide for Regional Education Service Agency governance by a board of directors comprised of county boards of education members and county superintendents in each of the existing Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) areas would cost county schools systems more than $20 million if the move were approved by the Legislature.

That figure is included in a Fiscal Note for the legislation. Most public education Fiscal Notes usually are prepared by either the West Virginia Department of Education staff or the West Virginia Board of Education staff. Under existing law, the WVBE is responsible for RESA governance and oversight.

The measure, adopted by the Senate Education Committee, has yet to be considered by Senate Finance.

According to various sources, the measure will not be considered by that Committee. There is no companion House legislation.

At the behest of several senators, the West Virginia School Board Association has provided an extensive review of the bill.

The SB373 Fiscal Note is included below:

 

Fiscal Note Summary

Effect this measure will have on costs and revenues of state government.

    -Potential loss of services provided to the counties. Currently, these shared services account for approximately $16.4 million in savings to the counties 
     
    - A potential loss of cooperative purchasing services provided to the counties. In FY2015, the RESA Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (AEPA) cooperative purchasing accounted for approximately $3.99 million in savings to the counties

Fiscal Note Detail
Over-all effect
Effect of Proposal Fiscal Year
2016
Increase/Decrease
(use"-")
2017
Increase/Decrease
(use"-")
Fiscal Year
(Upon Full
Implementation)
1. Estmated Total Cost 0 0 0
Personal Services 0 -16,400,000 -16,400,000
Current Expenses 0 0 0
Repairs and Alterations 0 0 0
Assets 0 0 0
Other 0 -3,990,000 -4,000,000
2. Estimated Total Revenues 0 -20,390,000 -20,400,000
3. Explanation of above estimates (including long-range effect):
    This bill leaves uncertain many aspects of Regional Education Service Agencies (RESA) management; therefore, the fiscal impact is difficult to gauge. This bill does not identify the employment classification RESA employees will hold. Will they be employees of the West Virginia Department of Education? Will they be considered employees of a Local Education Agencies (LEA)? Will a single LEA fiscal agent absorb these employees? The answers to these and similar questions will determine the plausibility of the potential fiscal impacts outlined below. 
     
    Under the proposed model, due to West Virginia State Personnel laws and/or West Virginia County Personnel laws, RESAs may no longer be able to provide shared services to counties. Shared services are utilized when the need for a position exists (i.e. Occupational Therapist) in multiple counties, but only on a part-time basis in each county. In such a circumstance, the RESA would hire this employee and the counties would share the expenses (salary and benefits) of that employee. Because counties are able to share one employee, as opposed to each county hiring its own employee to provide a service, it creates a savings for every county using the RESA employee to provide the service. Currently, shared services produce approximately $16.4 million in savings annually. 
     
    Under this model, due to West Virginia State Purchasing laws and/or West Virginia County Personnel laws and Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (AEPA) Cooperative Purchasing Program bylaws, RESAs may no longer be able to participate in the AEPA Cooperative Purchasing Program . The AEPA Cooperative Purchasing program offers pre-bid, low-cost products to the counties. The AEPA's Cooperative Purchasing program offers everything from janitorial supplies to field turf. From FY2012 - FY2014, participating counties saved approximately $4.2 million by using the AEPA Cooperative Purchasing Program. By FY2015, counties not participating in the program witnessed the benefits garnered by the participating counties and participation among all counties increased. In FY2015, the AEPA Cooperative Purchasing program saved counties approximately $3.99 million in cooperative products purchased. For the purpose of this fiscal note, we have estimated $4 million in savings for FY2016; however, it is entirely possible that savings could top $5 million for FY2016. 
     
    Additionally, the committee substitute does not indicate the status of the current state appropriation, of $3.5 million, to the RESAs. Will the funding stay with the West Virginia Department of Education? Will the funding continue to flow into the RESAs? If so, will the money go to the RESA fiscal agent for distribution to the RESAs? Will the money go directly to the RESAs? 
    If the RESA line item funding was lost, the counties within each RESA would need to submit approximately $400,000 - $500,000 to the RESAs in order for the RESAs to continue operating at their current funding level.

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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.