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Senate Bill 451 Addressed At Meeting

February 13, 2019
BY TELINA FRYE - STAFF WRITER (TFRYE@WETZELCHRONICLE.COM) , Wetzel Chronicle

Concerned citizens, local politicians, and other interested parties gathered at New Martinsville City Hall on Sunday, Feb. 10 to discuss recent legislation known as Senate Bill 451, which pertains to education reform in the state.

The Wetzel County Education Association and the Wetzel County Democratic Executive Committee hosted the meeting to inform the public about certain components of the bill and education changes within the legislation.

Attendees were informed that the WCEA, the WV Department of Education, Principal Associations, and Service Professional Associations, along with some taxpayers and certain other special interest groups, have expressed their displeasure with the bill.

Notably, the House Education Committee worked to eliminate much of the controversial language of the bill on Friday, Feb. 8 and passed an amended version of the bill, sending it to the House Finance Committee to review.

WCEA Co-President Elliot Kendle explained Feb. 10 that meetings have been held throughout the state since the passage of the bill in the Senate. He said the situation concerning Senate Bill 451 appeared very dismal at first. He said positive change has taken place in the past week, but there is still a long way to go.

Kendle said Senate Bill 451 did very little in its original state to reform education in West Virginia, and there were many concerns among educators and others with the lack of real reform. One concern does deal with a promised pay raise by Governor Justice, and that this pay raise is tied into the bill. It is still in the revised version.

Kendle said another item in the original bill was a one-time $2,000 supplement for math teachers, which sounds really good.. However, it was for teachers who are seeking certification, and his understanding is current math teachers would not receive this supplement. Also if the number of people applying for the supplement exceeded the funds available, it would be pro-rated in.

Another item dealt with salary equity and county salary supplements pertaining to schools which are difficult to staff, mainly math and science jobs. A county would have been allowed to pay the people who work in that school a higher amount.

However many of these issues have been removed by House Education Committee, along with other provisions deemed controversial in the Senate's version. Included among them were provisions requiring unions to receive annual approval before taking dues from teacher and school service employee paychecks, and a non-severability clause - which would have rendered the entire bill invalid if any part of it was successfully challenged in court. Kendle said another item in the bill pertains to a $500 year-end bonus if not absent more than four days. This is to increase attendance for staff. Originally, the bill stated this bonus was only to be given to teachers. However, service workers have since been added to the incentive.

Kendle explained the open enrollment item of the bill has good and bad qualities. He noted a positive benefit would be if a student lives in a remote area and there's a school in another county that is closer than a school in the student's own county. Students with special needs might also be able to access programs or services that are not provided in their own county. The problem is this could also affect staffing. As money goes and forth, positions would be lost. Kendle said he felt the definitions were a bit loose on what is or is not allowed.

Also, school counselors were affected in the bill. One of the deep concerns under the original bill was it removed the requirement that counselors spend 75 percent of the time in direct contact with the students. That could potentially have meant that they could be used solely for administrative purposes. The House Education Committee omitted this and now requires that counselors spend 80 percent of their time with the students. Kendle said he feels this will help the students tremendously.

Kendle noted other items of the bill, including the school aid formula base being set at a minimum of 1,400 students, has remained the same.

He noted the item that stated "no pay during work stoppages until days are made up" has been stripped form the bill. He said this item would not have affected instruction in anyway, and he further expressed how he felt this was a clear indication the bill was meant in retaliation to last year's actions.

He said there was also a provision in the original bill that declared all extracurricular activities would stop during a work stoppage. Under the amended bill, they would be allowed to continue. He said the item involving "teacher input on student promotion" stays the same.

Other changes from the bill that passed the Senate include: Public Charter Schools pilot capped at two, no Education Savings Accounts, No Paycheck Protection, and punitive damage to an employee during a work stoppage is out of the bill. Also, the changes to the bill note that seniority is linked to evaluations in job retention. There is also $5 million funding for innovation zones. This is a grant program through the state Department of Education that allows schools more flexibility to find ways to improve student learning and curb dropout rates.

Kendle noted the PEIA funding is a budget appropriation not included in the bill. He said the funding will be a line item of $150 million.

Delegate Dave Pethtel, who was present at the Feb. 10 meeting, explained that the e-mails he had received regarding Senate Bill 451, prior to the changes by the House Education Committee, were overwhelmingly in opposition to the bill. He said even after the changes, he still believes the public is against the bill. He noted when the bill was first making its way through the Senate, there was probably a whole week he received hundreds, possibly a thousand, emails, and not one person he heard from was for the bill.

Everyone at the meeting was urged to make calls and send e-mails to their representatives, in order to let their voices be heard.

Those interested in receiving updates on the bill were advised to go to the West Virginia Legislative website at www.wvlegislature.gov/ and click on "Bill Status," followed by "451."

 
 
 

 

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