The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

March 15, 2013

Education bill headed to vote

Endorsed by final Senate committee

CHARLESTON — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education proposal headed to a Friday vote on passage in the Senate after its endorsement Thursday by the Finance Committee, which learned it would save an estimated $630,000 during the next budget year and $2.1 million the following year.

The money stems from 5 percent in personnel cuts added to the bill Tuesday by the Senate Education Committee for each of those budget years. Senate Finance advanced the measure without any amendments, keeping intact its proposed changes to the school calendar, teacher hiring and transfers, and other areas of state education policy.

Thursday’s voice vote was not unanimous. Emerging as a major critic of the measure, Senate Majority John Unger quizzed state Schools Superintendent James Phares and Board of Education President Wade Linger about the estimated savings. The Berkeley County Democrat also questioned each about the board’s decision Wednesday to hire Donna Perduto as its new director of operations at $104,000 a year.

Unger later called for nonpartisan elections for board members, who are now appointed by the governor, and introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to make that change.

At nearly 190 pages, the bill seeks to advance Tomblin’s goals of ensuring that every 3rd grader ends that year reading at grade level, and that high school students enter their senior years ready for college or career training. It offers loan forgiveness to teachers assigned to subjects or parts of the state facing critical shortages. It would pay the $1,150 renewal fee for teachers with vaunted national certification.

The governor’s bill also frees up other days in the annual school calendar so counties can provide the 180 days of student instruction required by law. Snow days routinely prevent counties from reaching that mandate. As amended by Senate Education, this part of the bill would guarantee teachers at least four faculty senate meetings once school begins. The bill also no longer counts attending athletic tournaments and playoffs toward instructional days.

Addressing concerns raised by county superintendents regarding seniority’s role in hiring and transfers, Tomblin proposed placing that factor among seven others. County boards would decide which to emphasize when choosing applicants. Senate Education amended the bill to allow a teacher’s seniority within a county to count when facing transfer within a school. As amended, the bill allows counties to repost classroom teacher vacancies only once, and then only if fewer than three people had applied.

Groups representing teachers and school workers have objected to the calendar and hiring and transfer provisions. They also oppose the bill inviting Teach for America into the state. Senate Education removed mention of the nonprofit group, but the bill still offers a path for participants in such a national program to earn temporary teaching certificates. That committee’s amendment also sends temporarily certified teachers to middle and high schools for critical need subjects or areas of the state.

A successful vote Friday would send the measure to the House of Delegates.

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