BOARD PRESIDENT WHITED RESIGNS FROM CALHOUN SCHOOLS

Calhoun school board president Steve Whited has resigned from the Calhoun Board of Education “effective immediately.”
Whited has been a dutiful school board member for 10 and one-half years, and as president for several years.

His letter was submitted to Calhoun School Superintendent Tim Woodward, saying “It is with heavy heart and much thought that I am writing to inform you of my decision…certainly been challenging, rewarding, and memorable.”

Whited said his personal commitments have become too great… to be able to fulfill the requirements of the position.

He has been an active civic leader in the community, and is CEO of Minnie Hamilton Health Systems.

“I want to thank all the Board members, administration, and staff, as well as the community, for their efforts and time spent dedicated to the students of Calhoun County Schools and the great State of West Virginia,” he said.

The school board will seek and provide an interim replacement.

State leaders might follow new Gov. Jim Justice’s lead on reforming A to F grades for W.Va. schools

By Brad McElhinny in News

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s A through F grading system for schools, which just debuted a few months ago, is already getting a failing grade from new Gov. Jim Justice.
“We’ve got to worry about our kids getting an A through F versus our schools getting an A through F,” Justice, a Democrat from Greenbrier County, said in his inauguration speech on Monday.

Reaction to that comment among state leaders so far has ranged from enthusiasm to willingness to tinker with the system.

The system, which is also used in various forms in some other states, made its West Virginia debut in November. Most of West Virginia’s 668 schools that were graded earned Cs because the initial results were produced on a bell curve.

The plan has been for the bell curve to produce a set of standards for schools to meet in the future.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin backed the system, and the state school board said it would provide a valuable tool for parents to assess how their schools are doing.

In other states, most criticism has to do with the data that was selected to grade the schools and whether it accurately indicates school performance or improvement.

That’s the case in West Virginia, too. Here, school grades are determined on a range of standards. The bulk — 83 percent — are based on showing proficiency and improvement in subject areas like math and language arts.

Those scores are derived from the Smarter Balanced standardized test, which the state school board decided this month to consider replacing with end-of-course exams that would be connected to a student’s final grade.

Smarter Balanced does not affect grades, so the criticism is that there’s little incentive for students to put forth a full effort.

“The A through F grading system is so much invested in that final test that means nothing to the student,” state Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Tuesday during an appearance on “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval. “I’m not sure you’re getting a good, balanced rating for the parents in the school system.

Carmichael, a Republican from Jackson County, went on to say, “I’m not sure the A through F system has been received as it is intended to be. He’s right that we ought to be grading our students. We need to hold our schools accountable, but to do it simply on this test is ridiculous. It’s taking away from the true mission of education to convey knowledge and invest people with the skill set to move forward in a 21st Century economy.”

State schools superintendent Michael Martirano supports the move away from Smarter Balanced. But Martirano warns that the federal government requires a system of educational accountability, so if the A through F system is discontinued it would have to be replaced.

“Regardless if we go A to F, we have to have something in place,” Martirano said in a telephone interview. “Let’s step back and make the necessary adjustments within the system. Let’s make it more meaningful to the people we’re trying to reach.”

Martirano continued, “I want it done in a very thoughtful manner. I think there’s an opportunity to tweak the system we just implemented. We support the move away from Smarter Balanced. We recognize we’ve got work to do.”

Nick Casey, the chief of staff for Justice, said the new governor’s main concern is if A through F gives a negative impression of schools on the failing end without properly enlightening the community about what should improve.
The A through F system “appears on its face to be punitive in the way it does the measurements,” Casey said while appearing on “Talkline” today.

“The governor does have some concerns about the way we’re measuring accountability. That A through F on kids is something we understand. On schools, it’s almost a divisive, concerning way to do the measurements. Let’s do the measurements in a way that empower the folks at the schools.

Casey acknowledged that the state school board sets standards independently of the governor’s office, although the governor does appoint its members. There are currently two openings on the board, which has nine voting members.

“This is a situation where it’s a conversation and communication with the state board of education,” Casey said. “The governor does not control the state board of education.

“What the governor supports is accountability and he supports outcomes. You want those as a premise, but how you explain that to people F versus A is not very helpful and I don’t think is representative of the accountability that those schools have.”

The West Virginia Education Association, one of the unions that represents educators, raised immediate alarms about the A through F system. The teachers union has said there are “real questions about the validity and fairness of such systems.”

“The WVEA and its members have opposed the A-F grading system from the beginning,” WVEA President Dale Lee said when the system debuted. “We have spoken before the state board numerous times to express our members’ concern over a misguided representation of what education is about.”
House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson expressed interest in reviewing the A through F system while appearing Tuesday on “Talkline.”

“How is my school performing? Some of the report cards we’ve gotten have made it difficult to determine,” Espinosa said. “I support the concept. It’s a little heavy on one assessment.”

Boone schools may cut 40-45 positions as grievances, suits continue

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

Boone County Schools’ superintendent tentatively plans to recommend the Boone school board eliminate 40 to 45 positions for next school year, but cutting that many will be difficult now that board members have rejected his proposed school closures.

That’s according to Amy Willard, executive director of the state Office of School Finance. Boone Superintendent Jeff Huffman didn’t return the Gazette-Mail’s requests for further information Friday.

“Superintendent Huffman is working closely with his central office staff and school principals on alternative staffing recommendations now that staffing reductions are unable to be obtained through the school closures and reconfigurations,” stated a document Willard provided to West Virginia Board of Education members last week.

Willard’s report notes shortfalls in Boone are continuing.

“Even assuming that the property tax collections for the remainder of [this fiscal year] come in at the same level as [last fiscal year], property tax collections are expected to be $972,710 under budget for [this fiscal year],” the report states.

The state school board is a group of governor appointees who this summer threatened to take away power from Boone’s locally elected school board members if they didn’t make drastic cuts to their employees’ pay and benefits to save money this school year.

The state Department of Education, of which Willard’s office is a part, said Boone’s original budget for this school and fiscal year could have caused schools to run out of money as early as April.

Boone’s board members, having already voted to close three elementary schools and cut nearly 80 positions for this school year, twice refused to make the state-ordered cuts before finally relenting on July 18.

About three months later, in October, the Boone school system posted public hearing notices for more school closures and transfers of students to other Boone schools.

Huffman’s plan was to shutter the Whitesville Elementary building by transferring its students to Sherman Elementary, while also shuttering the Van Elementary building by moving its students to the Van Junior/Senior High building. The Van Junior/Senior High building would itself become a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school by transferring its ninth- through 12th-graders to Scott High.

In November, Boone’s board abruptly canceled the school closure public hearings before they were held.

A couple of board members, including board President Joe Tagliente, said the November victories of President-elect Donald Trump, a Republican, and Gov.-elect Jim Justice, who have both said they would revive the struggling coal industry, factored into their decision to cancel the hearings.

“I felt like we needed to give President Trump and Jim Justice a chance to see if the economy can be helped and bring back the coal jobs,” Tagliente said in November.

There is significant evidence coal won’t rebound to previous levels, especially in Southern West Virginia, where experts say the easiest-to-get and highest-quality coal seams have been mined out.

The July cuts to the pay and benefits of the Boone public school system’s 556 employees included a $3,800 to $4,000 salary cut per full-time professional employee, a category that includes teachers and school administrators, and a $3,650 to $3,850 salary cut per full-time service employee, a category that includes custodians and bus drivers.

Wes Toney, a staff representative for West Virginia’s arm of the American Federation of Teachers school employees union, said the July cuts have led to 415 employee grievances against the school system — including grievances from members of his and other unions — plus a lawsuit that recently survived a motion to dismiss.
Kym Randolph — communications director for the West Virginia Education Association, another union whose members are among the 400-plus grievances — said the grievances argue workers were denied due process afforded to them in state statute, part of the state code. She noted workers had already agreed to their contracts and a new contract year had already begun when there were cuts to pay, benefits and, for some employees, contracted work days.

“You have a right to voice your opposition and be heard,” Randolph said. “None of that was done.”

Toney said there was a Dec. 21 order to consolidate all the grievances into one because the matters “are basically the same or substantially similar.” He said the school system and the consolidated grievance group have agreed to skip the first two official steps of the grievance process, including mediation, and proceed to the level three adjudication before an administrative law judge.

Also now consolidated, Toney said, are the two lawsuits the AFT-WV and the WVEA filed in Boone Circuit Court against the school system in August over related issues.

That month, Parkersburg-based attorney Rick Boothby, representing the school system and Huffman, asked a judge to dismiss the suits for several reasons, including the fact they hadn’t been filed against state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, who leads the education department, or the state school board, which employs him.

Boothby’s motions to dismiss said if not for Martirano’s orders to make the employee contract changes and the state board’s vote to take over if it refused, the Boone school system wouldn’t have made the changes.

“The matter before the Court turns almost solely on the statutory and constitutional powers of the West Virginia Superintendent of Schools and the West Virginia Board of Education, not the actions of the Defendants,” Boothby wrote.

Court filings don’t show much action in the case from August until last month, when Judge Jay M. Hoke denied the motion to dismiss the WVEA’s request for declaratory judgment against the Boone school system. In his order, the judge called WVEA’s request “nearly identical” to AFT-WV’s version.

“The primary issue in this action is whether West Virginia Code Section 18A-4-19, which permits the taking of a contractual property right without due process, and Respondent’s (the Boone school board’s) use thereof, is unconstitutional,” Hoke wrote in his order. “This is simply a constitutional question. Yet, Respondent provided no legal authority for the proposition that the State Board of the State Superintendent are automatically indispensable parties [to the lawsuit] when the constitutionality of an education statute [in state Code] is challenged.”

“Respondent acts as if the State is the significant actor, deflecting responsibility away from its own acts,” Hoke continued. “It is Respondent who voted to infringe upon the property right of Petitioners (school employees). It is Respondent’s actions that Petitioners are contesting as unconstitutional. … [T]his Court notes that on at least two occasions, Respondent did, in fact, refuse to make the cuts at issue.”

Hoke also stated the court delayed deciding on the motion to dismiss until the state Attorney General’s Office indicated it didn’t feel the need to intervene in the case. The judge concluded it’s apparent the education department doesn’t desire to intervene.

The judge wrote the Boone board, through its attorney, “advanced the rather novel proposition” that if he ruled that 18A-4-19 violates the state Constitution, the Boone school board could then “subsequently ignore such ruling and commit the same unconstitutional acts if told to do so by the State Department of Education.”

Hoke said the Boone board showed no legal authority for that proposition, nor the proposition “that a third party can lawfully induce Respondent to violate the constitutional rights of its employees.”

Further actions have yet to be scheduled in the case.

Boone’s board will meet 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Boone County Schools Operations Complex, 5367 Daniel Boone Parkway, in Foster. On the agenda are a proposed repeal of a policy regarding the public posting of job vacancies and proposed revisions to a policy regarding meetings between employees and administrators over “disciplinary matters or other issues.”

Reach Ryan Quinn at

ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com,

facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn,

304-348-1254 or follow

@RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

 

 

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Bob Henry Baber: Loss of schools to consolidation is a blow Richwood should not absorb

By Bob Henry Baber

Richwood is smack dab in the middle of tourist country. We are a federally designated historic district with a rich history, artists, writers, musicians, wood carvers and more. We are situated at the base of one of the most beautiful forests in the country. Within a stone’s throw are the Falls of Hills Creek, the Cranberry Wilderness and Backcountry, Cranberry Glades, the Highland Scenic Highway and the best hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, and fishing in the east.

We are America’s best kept secret — but not for long. And remarkably, houses and storefronts are for sale for 50 to 75 percent off or more. Truly, we are the Gabe’s of towns, a bargain, and West Virginians and Americans love a bargain.

Since the June 23 flood, we have had to address many issues — over $10 million dollars and counting worth of flood/FEMA damages. And the paperwork — it’s monstrous! FEMA is an insurance claim on steroids. But we have had lots of help in our recovery. The cities of Summersville, Hurricane and Shepherdstown have all stepped up to the plate. And so has the Brooke County EMS team. Many other communities, church groups, and individuals have also helped. It has been an amazing experience seemingly meeting angels dropped down from heaven. God bless all of you.

We are doing our best to capture our carnage so FEMA can reimburse us for our damages. Our people have rocked and rolled with the punches — but we what we never expected was two haymakers from a new and inexperienced school superintendent out to prove she is smarter than FEMA, the State, and local citizenry.

The dreaded “C” word, consolidation, was put on the table on Jan. 9 for the first time in Nicholas County history. How shocking that a shivering town that has pulled itself from flood waters like a half-drowned dog may be kicked again while it’s down. In America we root for underdogs, we don’t give them the boot.

Now the superintendent and I both have Ph.D.’s, but there is a big difference between us. I’ve been humbled enough by FEMA over the past half year to readily admit I don’t know squat about FEMA’s incredibly complex and ever-changing rules and regulations. She, on the other hand, apparently believes she has “got this.”

She does not. I have a dozen great people around me, and I’m drowning in a sea of red tape. I’ve learned: Nobody understands FEMA — least of all FEMA itself. And if either FEMA or the state is telling you you’re doing a good job, you’d better put your hand on your wallet. Both are telling the superintendent just that, and she believes them.

We can’t wait to fix ourselves. As I write this, it is happening, organically. The old bank, long dilapidated, is being flipped into a daycare center; the C & S restaurant has reopened as the Oakford Diner; the old bakery near the Sculpture Garden is being recycled into the String and Bean restaurant; the Hole in the Wall Pizzeria has been rebooted; and the Rite Aid and Dollar General stores have cleaned and restocked.
New roads, a new water intake, improved water lines and millions of dollars in remediation are coming our way. We are about to get 30 new tiny, medium and large houses built and dozens of flooded homes rehabbed with major grants and volunteers.

Everyone in the state is pulling for us. We are going to put South Fork Lake back on the table and create West Virginia’s newest white water attraction on the very river that ravaged us, the Cherry. And water is going up on Hinkle Mountain and to the Cherry Hill golf course. That area will grow exponentially.

However, we have to protect our schools and all our students.

We want what FEMA and the superintendent promised us in the aftermath of the flood: restoration. We expect them to stand by their words and their missions and put back what was — our schools. If it ain’t broke … don’t break it.

The superintendent keeps talking about “data.” We all know “data” can prove or disprove anything. All data on consolidation proves that bigger is never better — especially for low-income learners.

But we are neither data nor biological specimens dipped into formaldehyde to be coldly dissected. We are human beings. We are Richwood. We will crawl back without the schools, but we will sprint back with them. We want to be the tip of the arrow of the new West Virginia.

When we get our new middle and high schools back, we will have them to draw us together and draw people to us. We KNOW Richwood will come back. It’s just a matter of faith and time. But we must keep our small family-oriented schools. They are priority No. 1 — and our heart and soul. Please share our optimism and pray for us. Richwood: the town that wouldn’t die! That’s us.
Bob Henry Baber is mayor of Richwood.