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McKinley Architects & Engineers

The Thrasher Group

January 31, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 4

All readers of The Legislature,

I'm writing to share the exciting news education historian and author, Diane Ravitch, is coming to West Virginia February 22. She'll be help celebrate the two-year anniversary of the state’s 2018 teacher and service personnel strike, sharing how West Virginia teachers were the inspiration behind her new book, Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the fight to Save America's Public Schools.

The event is set for 3 p.m. Sat., Feb 22, at the University of Charleston (Geary Auditorium).

For more information visit WV United Caucus, and the facebook event page.

On behalf of our Event Co-Sponsors and Sponsors, all are welcome, and we would love to have members of the West Virginia School Board Association attend and participate.

We hope to see you there!

Sincerely,
Jay O’Neal

Editor’s Note: O’Neal is a teacher in Charleston. Because of his role in the WV teacher and service personnel strike, he was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2019.

Download PDF flyer

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates this week narrowly defeated a bill that would have made it more difficult for county school boards to set school calendars as they see fit. House Bill 2433 not only split the House almost in half but also split Republicans and Democrats with members of each party on both sides.

The House voted 50 to 47 Wednesday to reject the bill with three members absent. That came after more than an hour of debate on the bill over two days with 45 minutes of that coming immediately before the vote. Last week, the House Education Committee voted 19 to three to approve the bill over the objections of the committee’s former chairman, House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson.

As originally drafted, the bill would have required school calendars to start no earlier than Labor Day and end no later than Memorial Day, but the Education Committee amended it to make September first the earliest day and May 31st the latest day. However, the bill hit a snag with some delegates early this week after they learned the National Rifle Association objected to the bill out of concerns that some school districts might not give students and teachers enough time off in November for deer hunting season.

Because of that concern, the bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, proposed an amendment on Tuesday that would have allowed the school calendar to extend as late as June 7. House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, supported the amendment because the second version of the bill would have allowed school districts only 195 days to fit 180 days of instruction into.

“To get 180 days of instruction into that 195 weekdays, this amendment would give an extra five days, so it does help for a little discretion there,” Ellington said.

However, Espinosa argued that extending the time for the school year by one week would not be enough. “I think I can certainly understand how folks want to be responsive and want to make sure that the NRA’s concern is addressed,” he said. “I think that the premise that this is going to address that concern is not borne out by the facts.”

“Just a couple of years ago, or even last year, we did a whole lot of preaching about local control, and it seems that this amendment and the bill is not in the spirit of that local control.” – Delegate Brandon Steele

Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, expressed another concern that a tighter school calendar would penalize those who want to take advantage of the opening of trout season, which typically comes along about the time many districts have spring break. “Just a couple of years ago, or even last year, we did a whole lot of preaching about local control, and it seems that this amendment and the bill is not in the spirit of that local control,” he said.

Some delegates want to maintain school boards’ flexibility.

On Wednesday, several delegates picked up on that concern that the bill would result in a retreat from the flexibility the legislature granted to school districts in 2013, following the 2012 education audit that found West Virginia’s public education system was too centrally controlled. Espinosa said some districts had trouble getting in 180 days of instruction under the former restrictions. He noted that more flexibility for county school boards was among the provisions of 2013’s big education reform bill, Senate Bill 359, which the House passed on a vote of 95 to two.

Although this year’s bill, House Bill 2433, would have allowed school districts to get waivers from its provisions from the state school board, Espinosa expressed concern that two former members of the House who are now on the state board (Tom Campbell and David Perry) “seem to be championing this reduction in flexibility and freedom that our local school districts have. How they would act on waivers, I think, remains to be seen.”

Espinosa read a letter from Jefferson County Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson, who said parents and staff members overwhelmingly prefer to complete the first semester prior to the December holiday break, which would be practically impossible with a September starting date. He noted that 32 of the state’s 55 school districts complete the first semester before the December break. Also, he said, many school districts must close for the full week of Thanksgiving for the beginning of hunting season because they would have insufficient numbers of bus drivers and other staff members available.

“What happened to our freedom agenda? [Do] we want one of the seminal pieces of legislation that we’re going to enact this session to be West Virginia House is trying to limit counties’ freedom to set school calendars? Well, if you want to vote for that, you’re going to do it without mine.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“What happened to our freedom agenda here, folks?” Espinosa asked. “What happened to our freedom agenda? [Do] we want one of the seminal pieces of legislation that we’re going to enact this session to be West Virginia House is trying to limit counties’ freedom to set school calendars? Well, if you want to vote for that, you’re going to do it without mine.”

Concluding his remarks, he said, “I think arguably this legislation does anything but put our students first, and if we’re serious about doing what’s best for our students, then I suggest that we need to maintain the freedom and flexibility that the legislature granted our local school boards a few short years ago.”

Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason, said he had intended to vote for the bill but changed his mind after he considered what legislators did several years ago in granting school boards flexibility. “I think we should leave the counties to decide what they need to do because I don’t know what Mineral County needs to do or Mason County,” he said. “We need to give them flexibility.”

Delegate Carl Martin, R-Upshur, said he is a former board of education member who thinks letting school boards set their calendars works great. “I know in Upshur County we start in the second week in August, so we allow for snow days and hunting and Thanksgiving break,” he said. “I really hope everyone votes against this and keeps the way we have it now.”

Another former county school board member, House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, also spoke against the bill, saying schools board have struggled with one-size-fits-all laws. “There are 55 counties in this state that have different environments, different populations,” he said. “A few years ago, we started down a route to try to free up county boards from the micromanagement that emanates here in Charleston from either us or the state board and give them the freedom to do what they needed to do to educate their children.”

The Mercer County board puts out three alternative calendars and lets staff vote on them, Shott said. In some years, the county has 15 to 20 snow days, but in other years, it has none, he said, so it would be burdensome and unnecessary to require school boards to apply to the state board for waivers to do what they are doing now.

“I just think we’re going the wrong direction, folks. We’ve done a U-turn on our efforts to try to give school boards flexibility when we tell them what the school calendar is.” – Delegate John Shott

“I just think we’re going the wrong direction, folks,” Shott said. “We’ve done a U-turn on our efforts to try to give school boards flexibility when we tell them what the school calendar is.”

Likewise, Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said that, since they received local control, 54 of the 55 county school boards have chosen calendars other than what the bill would dictate. “Will 54 of the 55 counties that obviously have chosen to exercise their local control and flexibility differently…apply for a waiver?” he asked. “Or will they surrender their local control to the one-size-fits-all central control proposed by this bill? I think the answer is probably obvious.”

Another opponent of the bill, Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said he reached out to principals, teachers, parents and students for opinions on this issue. “Without a doubt, every single one of them was against having a set date,” he said. “I didn’t have one that was in favor of this.”

The legislature has been working to provide more local control in recent years, Nelson said. “If a county doesn’t like what a board is doing, that county can make that choice locally instead of having us here in Charleston dictate to other counties on what they should do,” he said. “One size does not fit all.”

Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, said he opposed the bill simply because he generally is against central mandates and central planning.

Also against the bill was Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley. “We already have a problem in West Virginia with a top-heavy, too bureaucratic school system, so we want to increase that bureaucracy?” he said. “To the best of my understanding and memory, all 55 counties have school boards that are elected on a nonpartisan basis. Those folks who don’t like what the school board is doing should stand up and speak out and vote their minds on whoever represents them on the school board. I adamantly oppose this bill.”

Others wanted limits on county school boards.

“I think what we’re really doing is giving surety to our teachers, parents and students that they’ll know exactly when school will be every year.” – Delegate Caleb Hanna

Among those who spoke in favor of the bill was Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, who said the state school board has never denied a waiver request. “To really say that we’re taking flexibility away from the counties, I really don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “I think what we’re really doing is giving surety to our teachers, parents and students that they’ll know exactly when school will be every year.”

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he had made a 180-degree turn on the issue. Last year, he opposed a bill to limit the school calendar and voted against it in the committee. But since then, he said, many parents, teachers, retired teachers and two former school board members told him school boards have been given too much flexibility. “This does not go back to the hard and fast start on September 1 and end on May 30 that we had before,” he said. “It has some flexibility still in it and, I think, enough with the two different provisions.”

Saying he would vote for the bill this year, Doyle said, “I think we have in this bill something that conforms with the Goldilocks Rule: it’s just right.”

Delegate Kevan Bartlett, R-Kanawha, who was appointed to the House last year, said that, in his short time as a legislator, he has asked his constituents about this issue more than any other. “I’ve asked parents of dozens of school students about this issue, and it is specifically the non-response from our county school board that has prompted enthusiastic support from every parent that I talked to about this,” he said. In addition, he suggested that school districts should move the teacher-only days outside the instructional calendar to cope with a tighter time frame for school days.

Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, said he has had hundreds of people react to the bill through social media and email. “I’ve had literally unanimous support from the people in my district, not a single negative response to this bill, not a single one,” he said. Many people said they went hunting back when the calendar was restricted, he said. “It didn’t interfere with their hunting back then, so why would it interfere with their hunting now?” he asked. “Plus, kids can get so many excused absences anyway, so if they want to use those to go hunting, what’s the problem?”

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said he served as an athletic director in his school system. When students go back to school early in August, they get less practice for fall sports, he said, adding that many parents, teachers and students support the bill, so he would, too.

“We have to keep in mind that some of the local boards of education have somewhat abused that flexibility that they were given a few years ago. When we talk about boards of education and we talk about parents going before boards and giving input, we’ve seen local boards of education absolutely ignore the input that’s been given to them both on the establishment of a calendar, as well as consideration for consolidation or closing of a school. That input has been overlooked.” – Delegate John Kelly

The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, concluded discussion on the bill. “This bill doesn’t take flexibility away from your local board of education,” he said. “It still provides a waiver for those boards to change the calendar if they so need to do so to make up any of the lost days that they haven’t been able to make up. But we have to keep in mind that some of the local boards of education have somewhat abused that flexibility that they were given a few years ago. When we talk about boards of education and we talk about parents going before boards and giving input, we’ve seen local boards of education absolutely ignore the input that’s been given to them both on the establishment of a calendar, as well as consideration for consolidation or closing of a school. That input has been overlooked.”

Kelly said advantages of the bill were that it would provide a more uniform school year statewide, give teachers more time to take courses to advance their education, provide more opportunities for teachers and parents to plan summer activities, and provide teachers and students greater chance to work summer jobs.

“More importantly, it would reduce the need for families to take vacations after the start of the school year, and thus, would reduce absenteeism,” he said. “And absenteeism is one of the very reasons that we see lower test scores within our state and from our students. So by reducing those absenteeisms, we most likely would see an increase in our public schools’ test scores.”

Kelly said parents, teachers, students, state school board members, employees of the Department of Education, and tourism people supported the bill. Further, he said, too many students attend school in buildings in August without proper ventilation or air conditioning.

One day after the House voted 50 to 47 to reject the bill, Delegate Jeff Campbell, D-Greenbrier, said he wished the bill had passed because it would have helped the State Fair of West Virginia that is held in his county.

“The trickle-down effect of that legislation has impacted the State Fair to the point where weekday attendance has dropped from over 71,000 in 2014 to over 62,000 in 2015 and now 60,521 this past summer,” he said. “These numbers don’t lie.”

Excluding vendors, the fair hires almost 250 part-time employees for 10 days with a weekly payroll of more than $250,000, Campbell said. Greenbrier County doesn’t have school during the fair, he said, because the two largest schools are located across from the fairgrounds, so their being open would cause major traffic and safety issues. In addition, he said, many students exhibit livestock and agricultural products, and many students and school employees work at the fair each August. Using a figure from 2011, he said, the State Fair had $13.8 million in economic effects on the state.

“This isn’t just a school-related bill,” Campbell said. “I’ve spoken to many in tourism and agriculture who were in full support of this legislation.”

By Jim Wallace

A resolution that could lead to a constitutional amendment to eliminate a property tax on which many school districts, county governments and municipalities depend is on the move in the West Virginia Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee spent about three hours discussing Senate Joint Resolution 9 and taking testimony from experts Thursday afternoon.

That resolution would put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would allow the legislature to eliminate or lower taxes on motor vehicles and other personal property. It’s the first of two such resolutions to get through a committee. The other one is Senate Joint Resolution 8, which would put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to eliminate the property taxes manufacturers pay on inventory and equipment. Although just Senate Joint Resolution 9 was on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda, the committee’s discussion included concerns about both of them.

“This simply gives future legislatures the ability to shift taxes around, to make us a positive landing spot for some of those places to come.” – Sen. Tom Takubo

“This simply gives future legislatures the ability to shift taxes around, to make us a positive landing spot for some of those places to come,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, said, as he suggested the state could attract manufacturers to invest in West Virginia by eliminating taxes they don’t like.

Likewise, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, suggested West Virginia “could be missing out on a whole lot of manufacturing that could be coming to West Virginia if we didn’t have this tax.”

But Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said he was concerned about the effects the elimination of the taxes would have on counties and school districts that depend on the revenues from the taxes. “There’s a real question whether we’ll bankrupt a whole bunch of counties,” he said.

Among those the senators questioned about the proposed amendments were Mark Muchow, deputy secretary of the Department of Revenue, and Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. Muchow reminded the senators that the earliest the legislature would be able to lower or eliminate the taxes if voters would approve the amendments this November would be fiscal year 2023, which will begin July 1, 2022. “The ability to do something doesn’t mean that action is taken to do this,” he said.

Boettner said he thought having a skilled workforce would be a bigger lure for manufacturers than the elimination of these property taxes. He said West Virginia’s low real estate taxes are already a good attraction for companies that might want to locate in the state.

The resolutions generally are supported by Republicans, while Democrats want to know how school districts, county governments and municipalities would be compensated for the tax revenue they would lose.

Democrats’ support is lacking so far.

To put the proposed amendments on the statewide ballot, two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House would have to approve the resolutions. That means Republicans would have to get the support of some Democrats. In the Senate, which has 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats, at least three Democrats would have to join all the Republicans for the resolutions to pass. But a debate on the floor of the Senate Wednesday indicated that the Republicans can’t count on the needed support from Democrats.

Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, began the debate by stating that a peer-reviewed study found that Ohio lost about 20 thousand jobs after it eliminated its business personal property tax.

“In the short-term, repealing this kind of tax encourages investment in capital and automation and not in people,” he said. “So the job growth actually went down in that state. I’m afraid in the short term, if we were to repeal this tax, we would actually see the same kind of thing happen here in West Virginia. We would actually lose jobs. We would be incentivizing companies to invest in capital and automation and not in West Virginians.”

Some counties rely on the tax revenues more than others, Ihlenfeld said, and those in his area of the Northern Panhandle would take a huge hit if the tax on manufacturing inventory and equipment were eliminated. Based on 2018 numbers, Hancock County would lose $5.5 million, Marshall County would lose $5.3 million, Brooke County would lose $6.2 million, and Ohio County also would lose a good bit of money, he said.

“Counties and cities and schools would all face serious impact if this tax were to be repealed.” – Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld

“Counties and cities and schools would all face serious impact if this tax were to be repealed,” Ihlenfeld said, adding that he has heard from county commissioners and city officials about the issue. “Although my district is made up of some really tough and really resilient people, and we’ve been through a lot of tough times, this would be a huge blow to the northern part of this state up in the panhandle.”

Recently, he said, his area has suffered the loss of two hospitals, one in Wheeling and one across the river in Ohio. Ihlenfeld expressed concern about how the state would replace the lost revenue. He cited an economic analysis from West Virginia University that projects the state is facing budget deficits of $170 million in 2022, $157 million in 2023, $171 million in 2024 and $164 million in 2025.

“So I just don’t see how we’re going to replace that revenue, and I’m nervous and concerned for the counties that would be impacted by this,” Ihlenfeld said. “I also worry about future revenue that we might be sacrificing.”

Until he can see how counties in his district would be made whole, he said, he will have a hard time supporting the elimination of the property taxes. “And looking at the numbers, I would expect my colleagues from Kanawha, Cabell, Wood, Monongalia, Putnam, Jackson and Berkeley [counties] would feel the same way because they’re also going to take a pretty big hit if this were to happen.”

“I think that what the counties should be looking at right now is how many jobs that they do not have because West Virginia’s tax structure is out of step with our competitors.” – Sen. Eric Tarr

But Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said the amendment on the manufacturing tax has been mischaracterized as a loss to the counties. “I think that what the counties should be looking at right now is how many jobs that they do not have because West Virginia’s tax structure is out of step with our competitors,” he said.

The net tax on manufacturers in West Virginia is 15.9 percent, while Ohio’s is 5.9 percent and Pennsylvania’s is 4.2 percent, Tarr said. Elimination of the tax would reduce the net tax down to about 8 percent, which still would be almost double of Pennsylvania’s tax and significantly higher than Ohio’s, he said

In regard to the hospital closures Ihlenfeld mentioned, Tarr said that such closings would be less likely if West Virginia could strengthen its economy.

“When you don’t have strong, strong, strong employment gains, you tend to see decreased health in a community,” he said. An improved economic standing would improve health, Tarr said, but a less healthy population places heavier demand on hospitals and decreases the likelihood they will get compensated for their services.

Noting that he is from Putnam County, one of the counties that benefit the most from the tax, Tarr said it’s one of the few growing counties in West Virginia. “That tax is an impediment to our growth,” he said. “It doesn’t facilitate it; it’s an impediment.”

If the people would approve the amendment, it would not mean the counties would lose revenue, Tarr said, because the legislature could appropriate money to make sure they’re OK. “It’s not a fiscal issue to get it done,” he said. “It’s absolutely political, and we have to get past the political side to get it done for the people of West Virginia.”

But on the Democrats’ side, Romano, D-Harrison, remained skeptical of such promises.

“There’s no Democrat over here that doesn’t think getting rid of the business personal property tax is a good idea,” he said. “It’s a gross income tax. You got to pay it whether or not you make money. But we’re not going to get rid of it recklessly. We’re not going to do it without a replacement of that income for our counties and public schools. We can sit here and promise all we want that we’re going to make it up out of the general fund. The general fund is worse than my checkbook.”

Before Republicans took control of the legislature in 2015, the Democrats had lowered business taxes almost $400 million, he said, and since then, those taxes have decreased more than $200 million. But he wondered why those cuts haven’t done more to improve the state’s economy.

“Where are all the businesses?” Romano asked. “How many times do we have to pony up and get down on our knees in front of business and ask for jobs in West Virginia?”

Not one new private job was created as a result of the tax cuts prior to 2015, he said.

The National Tax Foundation ranks West Virginia as the 17th lowest tax state, Romano said, and it is among the top 10 cheapest states to do business for the past decade.

“Continually cutting taxes irresponsibly is a loser’s proposition. We have to worry about an educated workforce. We have to worry about educating our children. We have to worry about getting our state healthy. We have to worry about finding places for businesses to establish and build in our state. That’s going to bring jobs to West Virginia, not lowering our taxes even lower and depriving our people of the services.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“Continually cutting taxes irresponsibly is a loser’s proposition,” he said. “We have to worry about an educated workforce. We have to worry about educating our children. We have to worry about getting our state healthy. We have to worry about finding places for businesses to establish and build in our state. That’s going to bring jobs to West Virginia, not lowering our taxes even lower and depriving our people of the services.”

However, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, contended that West Virginia’s tax on manufacturers is out of sync with surrounding states and makes West Virginia uncompetitive. He called the proposed tax relief, “absolutely critical to the future of this state.”

Nevertheless, Trump agreed with some of what Ihlenfeld said. “Those ad valorem taxes are collected by local school districts and county commission primarily – some municipalities – and it is critically important that this legislature, if it’s going to propose a reduction in that tax, to figure out a way to hold those political subdivisions harmless and keep them whole,” he said. “But because it’s hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it.”

Takubo then said, “I think what I’m hearing from all members of the Senate is that we pretty much agree. It’s just how we get there.”

In addition to the property tax, he said, another disadvantage employers face in West Virginia is the relative unhealthiness of the people, which results in higher health care insurance premiums. Takubo, who is a physician, called that a bigger inhibitor than the inventory and equipment tax. He suggested a good way to come up with revenue for counties and school districts would be to raise the tobacco tax, as the legislature did in 2015. He said that turned out better than expected. A study at the time from WVU said the state would save $244 million in Medicaid costs, but it turned out to be about $350 million, he said.

“So, crank that up,” Takubo said. “Our kids are sick. They’re vaping left and right, so one of the tools in the toolbox would be to crank that tax up. Make our state healthier, but at the same time, take that money and use it where it’s more beneficial like maybe getting rid of a tax, which is hurting our manufacturing, hurting our jobs, hurting our business climate. So, I think we can all work together. I think we’re all on the same page. It’s just a matter of how we get there.”

Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said everyone wants a better tax structure for the business community, but with the Tax Foundation ranking West Virginia 17th for business, it’s not doing too bad.

“The reason we’re not growing business in West Virginia is not because of the business climate,” he said. “It is because we rank so terribly in other very important sectors.”

U.S. News & World Report ranks the state 48th in health care, 50th in economy and 50th in infrastructure, Hardesty said, so legislators should focus on those categories.

“Should we not reset and focus on areas where we’re so distraught and depressed?” he asked. “We got it backwards. We got it completely backwards.”

On the other side, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said the manufacturing sector is not doing as well as the state overall, so it’s important to cut taxes on manufacturing.

“The states that are the most prosperous economically are the states that cut taxes and cut spending.” – Sen. Mike Azinger

“The states that are the most prosperous economically are the states that cut taxes and cut spending,” he said. “Everybody knows if you tax something you’re going to get less of it.”

Finally, Azinger said, “This is a no-brainer. This is not something difficult. We need to get rid of this tax in a bad way. West Virginia has got to build its reputation as a job-creating state. We do not have that reputation.”

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee has approved Senate Bill 614, which would change the way the state provides funding for video cameras in self-contained special education classrooms.

It would change the funding mechanism set up last year in Senate Bill 632, which required the cameras to be put into those classrooms but specified that $3.5 million from the Safe Schools Fund would be distributed equally to each school. That has been a problem because the number of self-contained special education classrooms varies from school to school.

“We found that, due to the funding language of the bill, the money was directed to schools that didn’t have self-contained classrooms,” Sarah Stewart, a legislative liaison for the Department of Education told the committee. “That did put a financial burden on some of those schools that do have a high volume of self-contained classrooms, so we’ve been working with various legislators on how we might correct that problem. The money has been distributed to counties. Most of them have held onto it looking for further guidance, especially when they were short a substantial amount of money.”

Some schools had sufficient funds and installed the cameras, she said.

But Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, expressed concern about the effects such cameras could have on teachers. “My suspicion is that it’s kind of hard to recruit special ed. teachers, and I’m just wondering if the fact we’re going to monitor their every movement, every activity of the day, if that’s put any type of chilling effect on our special ed. prospective teachers,” he said.

“Great question,” Clayton Burch, associate state superintendent said. “I think it is very difficult to recruit them. It’s one of the largest vacancies we have, but I will venture to say that we will have a population of special ed. teachers that also may appreciate that because it is a very, very vulnerable place to be in a classroom such as that.”

“The best of the best never shy away from accountability and never shy away from any type of monitoring.” – Clayton Burch

Burch added, “The best of the best never shy away from accountability and never shy away from any type of monitoring.”

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said legislators had a similar discussion last year. “In the vast majority of cases, it would protect the teacher if an accusation were made or if there were unexplained bruises on a child and the parents don’t know,” she said.

Senate Bill 614 has gone to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate wants the legislature to study problems with bullying in public schools over the rest of this year leading to possible legislation next year. The full Senate on Thursday approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 10, which requests a study of the effectiveness of current West Virginia laws relating to anti-bullying measures in public schools. The legislature conducts such studies during interim meetings held between the annual regular 60-day sessions.

The resolution includes these premises:

  • West Virginia anti-bullying measures and regulations have been previously established to deter harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
  • Schools districts in West Virginia are required to adopt a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
  • Harassment, intimidation, and bullying can facilitate a hostile learning environment and negatively impact a child’s educational outcomes.
  • The National Education Association has estimated that more than 160,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade nationally miss school every day because of the threat or fear of bullying.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the United States Department of Education, reported in 2019 that 20.2 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18 experienced bullying in school.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2019 that the negative consequences of bullying can increase the risk of low academic achievement, rates of school dropout, social and emotional distress, self-harm, and even death.

In the Senate Education Committee’s discussion of the resolution Tuesday, it was mentioned that one national organization has ranked West Virginia high on a survey about bullying.

“I really feel we need to have more information before we make any decisions on changing what we have. It may be we just need to implement what’s already currently law.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

“There were several groups that came to me with concerns about bullying and it was part of their legislative priorities that they had,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said. “In discussion with the state board, I did not feel that we were prepared to introduce legislation. I really feel we need to have more information before we make any decisions on changing what we have. It may be we just need to implement what’s already currently law.”

Rucker said the state school board has a good policy on bullying and state code defines what harassment and bullying are.

“I almost felt like we’ve already addressed it, but something’s wrong because obviously there still seems to be some sort of pervasive problem,” she said. “So one of the reasons I wanted to do a study resolution on this [is] it gives the state board a chance to be talking to the counties, especially the ones where we’re getting a lot of reports on bullying or problems and maybe come back to us with some recommendations when they figure out what’s going on. Is it the way it’s being implemented? Is it training? Is it professional development? Are there particular issues in certain areas or populations? Where are we having the issues?”

The legislature would not just be “kicking the can down the road” on this issue by studying it for a year but merely providing time to gather recommendations on how to address it, Rucker said. One idea she said she has heard is for schools to conduct exit surveys for parents who withdraw their children from the public schools to find out why they do that.

“That concerns all of us that we have a high number of students leaving our public schools,” Rucker said. “We’re trying to see what we can do to keep them.”

Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said he tried to do a similar study of bullying problems when he served on his county school board.

“If you start looking at bullying in schools, you’re going to have to go in a hundred different directions and you’re going to have to go pretty deep several times in order to get an answer.” – Sen. Stephen Baldwin

“It became quite an undertaking,” he said. “And I think, as your response indicates, if you start looking at bullying in schools, you’re going to have to go in a hundred different directions and you’re going to have to go pretty deep several times in order to get an answer.”

Rucker said the resolution is a starting point. She suggested the issue could become as extensive as the child welfare issues legislators have been addressing in several bills last year and this year.

 

By Jim Wallace

House Bill 4089 to extend the teaching of cursive writing to another year of elementary school has gone to the Senate Education Committee after the House of Delegates voted 87 to eight to approve it this week.

When then bill was up for passage, House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, explained that a requirement for teaching cursive writing already is in state code and state school board policy for grades two through four. House Bill would require it to be taught in grades three through five, so the effect of the bill would be to extend that teaching to grade five, he said.

This is one of several bills the House Education Committee has received this year to require the teaching of subjects that already are required, Ellington said. Other bills would require teaching in such subjects as personal finance, economics and documents in American history.

“The concern is things aren’t being taught properly,” Ellington said. “Now, some of our students are getting taught. They’re learning this. Some of our great teachers are doing a very good job of this, but apparently some are falling through the cracks. These things keep coming up, and that’s a concern. Now, we don’t have much oversight on what goes on. If the school board is not going to have accountability, this legislative body does not have any real oversight other than withholding funding or we tell them: do this.”

Ellington said all of the teachers with whom he has discussed the bill were 100 percent in favor of it. “In order to prompt our board of education to get the job done, I recommend we pass this bill,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate that we have a small group of students within the state of West Virginia who were not taught to handwrite in cursive. I have a granddaughter who is a freshman in high school this year. She has no idea how to write in cursive, yet she’s a 4.0 student.” – Delegate John Kelly

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, supported the bill and said, “It’s unfortunate that we have a small group of students within the state of West Virginia who were not taught to handwrite in cursive. I have a granddaughter who is a freshman in high school this year. She has no idea how to write in cursive, yet she’s a 4.0 student.”

Such students can’t read the Constitution of the United States or the Declaration of Independence and other documents, including old deeds, he said.

“It’s a shame that this small group of people were penalized because they were not given the opportunity to learn how to write cursive,” Kelly said. “This is an important bill.”

Although no one spoke against the bill, eight delegates voted against it. They included: Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley; Mick Bates, D-Raleigh; Sammi Brown, D-Jefferson; Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson; Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam; Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock; and Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has approved a bill designed to help school districts with large transportation costs. Senate Bill 241 would require the state school board to figure out how to address transportation personnel shortages in large, rural school districts.

“This bill, as introduced, creates a whole new section of code that requires the board of education to develop a plan and report to the legislature before September 1, 2020, on a funding mechanism to address transportation personnel shortages in rural, low-density population counties,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said just before the Senate passed the bill. “Currently, most of the funding comes from grants, which creates complex funding issues. This bill seeks to address this issue by requiring the board of education to develop a plan to fund personnel as an item separate from the total basic state allowance and providing for better consideration of fixed costs for transportation in rural counties.”

The Senate voted 33 to zero to approve the bill, which has gone to the House Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee has approved a bill to allow noncitizens of the United States to be eligible for teaching certificates or alternative program teacher certificates.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said his union would have no problem with the bill. “We have such a teacher shortage in West Virginia and there’s areas like Japanese and Chinese that we’re having difficulty getting teachers in,” he said.

At the suggestion of the Department of Education, the committee amended the bill to add language that the noncitizens should have permanent residence documents.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the state’s colleges and universities hire noncitizens as teachers all the time, but public schools have been unable to do it.

The bill now goes to the full Senate.

By Jim Wallace

House Education Committee has approved House Bill 4378, which would authorize the state school superintendent to discipline or revoke the teaching certificate of any teacher found to have committed sexual misconduct involving a student, minor, or individual who was a student in the preceding 24 months.

Other actions the state superintendent could take would be to limit teaching certificates, admonish the individuals or enter into consent agreements requiring specific training for teachers to maintain their certificates.

Sarah Stewart, legislative liaison for the Department of Education, said there is a nationwide clearinghouse on licensure actions that have been taken against teachers.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved House Bill 4546, which would remove the requirement for county school superintendents to be screened every two years for tuberculosis.

Instead, the commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health would be able to require such testing of a superintendent when there is reason to believe the superintendent might have been exposed to tuberculosis.

Some members of the committee wondered why superintendents were singled out for such testing to begin with. Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, speculated, “There was a time when tuberculosis was a much more serious or imminent threat than it is now.”

The bill has gone to the full Senate for further consideration.

Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston 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.