Gayle Manchin’s job at Education and the Arts on the chopping block

Hoppy’s Commentary
When Gov. Gaston Caperton took office in 1989, he embarked on a government reorganization effort, shifting dozens of state agencies into just a few departments headed by Super Secretaries. One of his creations was the Office of Education and the Arts.

Caperton, frustrated by his inability to influence public education, wanted to eliminate the constitutionally-guaranteed independence of the state Board of Education and move those responsibilities to the state’s chief executive. But voters overwhelmingly rejected the constitutional amendment in an election that September.

Even Caperton conceded the defeat negated the need for a separate office for Education and the Arts, yet 28 years later the agency still exists. The agency has become home to a number of different government departments — Culture and History, the state Library Commission, the Center for Professional Development (continuing education for teachers), the Division of Rehabilitation Services and more.

Now the Legislature is advancing a bill originated by Republicans that eliminates Education and the Arts. HB 2524 shifts the various responsibilities to other agencies or, in the case of teacher training, moves those duties to the local level.

The dismantling of the office has serious political overtones because it eliminates the Secretary’s position now held by Gayle Manchin, wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Senator Manchin supported Justice for governor and Justice’s appointment of Gayle raised eyebrows. Manchin’s salary is $95,000 a year.

Gayle Manchin has experience as an educator and served on the state Board of Education. She has quickly settled into her leadership role with E and A. However, as they say in politics, the optics of her appointment were bad, especially when the new governor promised to part with the politics of the past.

The bill still has a long way to go, but it has overwhelming support from the Republican majorities. I suspect some Democrats will get on board as well. Imagine if the bill makes it to the governor’s desk: Would Justice sign a bill that eliminates Gayle Manchin’s job even though he appointed her to the position just a few weeks ago? Republicans have been planning for months to get rid of E and A, so Manchin must have known when she pushed for the job that her tenure would be cut short.

The elimination of Education and the Arts creates some awkwardness because of the Manchin connection, however, it’s the right thing to do. It will save between $4 million and $5 million annually, reduce redundancy and eliminate an unneeded level of state government bureaucracy.

The only question is why it wasn’t done years ago.

Nicholas County schools to receive $2 million FEMA grant

By Alex Thomas
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) announced Thursday new funding from FEMA that will go toward flood recovery efforts in Nicholas County.

The almost $2 million grant will be used by the Nicholas County School District.

The funds will be used to pay for temporary facilities to replace those destroyed or damaged in the June 2016 flood.

Justice submits his education reform bill

By Brad McElhinny
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice created a stir when he pulled out a blue folder during his inaugural address and said it contained his proposal to reform West Virginia’s education system.

Now the Justice administration is providing more detail about what that would mean. His proposals are included in Senate Bill 420, which was introduced today.

Justice says his goal is to flatten the management structure of the state school system and to empower local schools.

“West Virginia’s students and teachers are being crushed by a boulder of bureaucracy in Charleston,” Justice stated in a release about his education reform bill.

“Our local school districts and parents have lost control of what’s going on in the classroom. My plan will transform our public schools into a world-class education system that gives all of our students a shot at success and allows our teachers the freedom to teach.”
What he wants to do is multifaceted:
•restructure the state Department of Education and eliminate the need for the eight Regional Education Service Agencies, encouraging county boards of education to share services formerly provided by RESAs
•eliminate the Office of Education Performance Audits
•limit the intervention by the state school board into local school systems to “only the most extraordinary or dire circumstances”
•Make the 180 calendar day policy more flexible for local communities. This section is actually described as establishing a number of minutes or hours to be achieved. It also calls for providing up to five days in the school calendar that may be “reimagined” and used to meet the 180 separate days of instruction requirement
•create flexibility for instructional days, including reserved time for teachers to collaborate and plan lessons for their students
•Require state board to review/develop and approve a college and career readiness assessment to be administered in 11th grade and make it count toward statewide student assessment in English Language Arts, Math, and Science in said grade or as required by federal law and regulations
•End the A to F grading of public schools by amending school accreditation, accountability and school performance to include multiple measures

The governor’s bill includes his proposed 2 percent average raise for classroom teachers. It’s described this way: “Raise classroom teacher salaries and pay for it through reorganization and prioritization of educational programs at the State Department of Education.”

The elimination of the RESAs, which provide services like bulk-buying and regionalized training, is represented by a long section of strike-throughs. That section concludes:
“The regional education service agencies, previously established by this section, are hereby abolished on or after July 1, 2017.

“On July 1, 2017, all property, equipment and records held by the regional education service agencies necessary to effectuate the purposes of this article shall be transferred to the state board or to other appropriate entities as provided by law.”

Farewell, RESAs.

The governor’s bill would establish a county superintendents’ advisory council, meant to promote collaboration among districts. The council would be divided among four districts.

The councils would share the administration of some services, such as the oversight of programs for exceptional students, professional development and billing for school-based Medicaid services.

The state Office of Education Performance Audits is also wiped out in the governor’s proposal.

Instead, “the state board may employ individuals, who serve at the will and pleasure of the state board, to coordinate on site and school system improvement efforts with staff at the State Department of Education to support schools and school systems in improving education performance measures.”

The governor’s proposal says the state board will produce standards about what to do about school systems that aren’t thriving.

When “extraordinary circumstances” exist but don’t rise to the level of immediate intervention, the proposal states, the state board can declare an emergency and identify direct designees to recommend corrections.

If that doesn’t work, the state board would intervene by limiting the authority of the county board, removing the county superintendent and declaring other personnel positions vacant, possibly then refilling them with the original employee or someone new.

The governor’s proposal takes away the power of the state superintendent to act directly in some of these matters, placing the power with the state board.

The state board could still act immediately in the operation of a county school system.

In those cases, the proposal says, the state school board or its designee, the state education department, and the county school system would work collaboratively to improve.

Without the Office of Education Performance Audits, the state school board would appoint a designee to assess the local school system’s readiness to return to normal. If an intervention lasts beyond five years, public hearings would have to be held.

Justice said he would make education a priority. His office released a statement underscoring his intention.

“Charleston thinks it knows what’s best for our kids, and after meeting with educators and parents around the state it’s as clear as day that the bureaucrats have no clue about what’s really going on,” Justice stated.

“We’ve proven how to be 50th; it’s time to restructure and rebuild our school system from the bottom up.”

Dismantling WV Education and the Arts Department eyed

Ryan Quinn

The West Virginia House Education Committee, in a voice vote with a few nays heard, passed Wednesday night a bill that would eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts and transfer most of the agencies it contains elsewhere in state government.

House Bill 2524, of which committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, is the lead sponsor, also would essentially eliminate the secretary of education and the arts position and would eliminate the current Center for Professional Development, which is under the Department of Education and the Arts. The Center for Professional Development, a teacher training agency, already had its state funding cut by about a third for this fiscal year.

The department’s Library Commission, Division of Culture and History and Division of Rehabilitation Services would be transferred to the Department of Commerce. The Educational Broadcasting Authority would become an independent agency within the executive branch.
The Volunteer West Virginia community service agency, the final agency within the department, isn’t made part of the department through law other than the fact that its funding line items are under the department’s budget. The separate budget bill could transfer the line items elsewhere if the department is eliminated.
The Department of Education and the Arts is separate from the state’s Department of Education, which generally oversees K-12 education.

Following an amendment Wednesday night from Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, the bill was amended to require the state Board of Education to establish a Center for Professional Development within the state Department of Education. David Mohr, a committee staff member, said the amendment still won’t move the “restrictive statutes” and independent governing board of the current center to the Department of Education, but would preserve language laying out the existing Center for Professional Development’s mission.

The Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System, released in 2012, recommended consolidating oversight over all professional development — a term used to refer to continuing employee training — into the Department of Education, rather than splitting that role between the Department of Education and the Department of Education and the Arts.

The bill, which now heads to the House Finance Committee, also includes changes to existing law regarding professional development beyond that provided by the center.

“The thrust of the legislation is to really reinforce the principal as the instructional leadership of the school and to move a lot of that decision-making down to the local level,” Espinosa told House Education members Wednesday afternoon — the first time the committee took up the bill, at about 2:45 p.m.

Espinosa said he doesn’t have an estimate of how much money the bill could save, and said saving money isn’t its main focus. He said “I think the elimination of the Department of Education and the Arts is more incidental to the overall purpose of this legislation,” which is to “empower the local principals and really move much more of that decision making to the school and district level as opposed to trying to dictate from Charleston what type of continuing education educators need.”

He said with the current Center for Professional Development ceasing to exist under the bill, he sees less need for the department to house its remaining agencies.

“The primary focus of this legislation is to reinforce the principal as the instructional leader of the school and to emphasize the need and expectation that that principal will in a collaborative manner tailor a continuing education program at his or her school that reflects the needs of the faculty and others at his or her school,” Espinosa told the Gazette-Mail. But he also noted past discussions about costs of alleged “duplicative bureaucracies.”
“Forty-three sections of code is huge,” Moye said, referring to the parts of law affected by the 77-page bill. “That’s a lot and, to that end, I would request that we move this bill to a subcommittee.”

“I have read it, I have tabbed it and I have marked it, and I’m going to be honest with you, I still don’t understand all of it,” said Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell.

But a subsequent roll-call vote to send it to a subcommittee failed on an 11-11 tie, and a re-vote on sending it to a subcommittee — because the first vote wasn’t done alphabetically — failed 12-10.

Espinosa, who voted against sending the bill to a subcommittee, pushed ahead with debate on the bill, holding about two hours of discussion before breaking around 5 p.m. to reconvene at 7 p.m. The committee meeting ended around 9 p.m., following amendments to the bill.

Former state Board of Education president Gayle Manchin, whom Gov. Jim Justice appointed as secretary of education and the arts, said that, since she started the position Jan. 17, she’s worked to start consolidating the department’s employees from various agencies into the Culture Center and the West Virginia Public Broadcasting building. WVPB is part of the Educational Broadcasting Authority.

The former first lady said her past staffing restructuring and this consolidation, which is not yet complete, will help the department save money on rent and save money by sharing employees, like communications workers, across multiple agencies.

Sue Chapman, the department’s chief financial officer, said Manchin’s plan, which also includes the elimination of vacant positions, should save $1.4 million next fiscal year.

“They’re not saving anything, nothing,” Chapman said of Espinosa’s bill. “But it will put programs — it will put those programs and activities at risk. I don’t know where they’ll go or how they’ll be managed.”

The estimated financial impact of the bill is not yet known.

“I guess I’m sorry that they never felt compelled to have us come in and talk to the agencies and talk to me before they wrote the bill,” said Manchin, who is the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Espinosa said he started drafting the bill before Gayle Manchin became secretary, and that he actually did meet with her after she was appointed. He said he didn’t provide a lot of detail to her on the bill, because it still was being finalized, but did tell her the bill he was contemplating would eliminate her department and spin off its agencies.

“We certainly welcome their input,” Espinosa said of Manchin’s department.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1254, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.