Education leaders say teachers need more than 1 percent pay raise proposed by governor

WV Legislature
Governor Jim Justice gave his second State of the State Address Wednesday night at the Capitol.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia education leaders say a proposed one percent pay raise for teachers is not enough to fill the more than 700 vacancies statewide.

“We’re still 49th in the nation in pay. One percent doesn’t move us anywhere,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association following Governor Jim Justice’ second State of the State Address Wednesday night at the Capitol.

The governor proposed increasing the average pay for state workers, including teachers, by one percent each year over a five year period. The raise would be combined with annual step increases.

Currently, the starting teacher salary in West Virginia is around $33,000. Lee said the Legislature needs to come up with a plan to raise that by $10,000 over the next few years.

“What I would recommend is that we really come up with a plan and that we get to that $43,000 in a five year period,” Lee said. “We have to make sure that our teachers want to come into education and then stay in West Virginia.”

Christine Campbell, president of the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, said “every little bit helps,” but teachers need job security and a competitive pay. She said changes to teachers’ health benefits are also a concern.

“Is a one percent pay raise going to be enough to keep people here? What are the cuts to our rates and benefits that are going to balance out or cause people to leave anyway?” she asked.

Education officials say teachers are leaving the state because they’re not getting paid enough. According to Lee, about 50 percent of new teachers, by their fifth year, leave the profession to either get higher paying jobs somewhere else or leave West Virginia to work as a teacher in a different state.

Governor Justice also proposed making community and technical college free in West Virginia. He said his administration plans to devote about $7 million to subsidizing community and technical college education in the state.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04) favored the idea.

“It’s just an excellent program that I think will generate jobs, growth and opportunity and do from a moral perspective what’s right for the people of West Virginia to provide them that stack-able skill set, education level to lift themselves from poverty,” Carmichael told MetroNews.

Campbell said it would be a great opportunity for high school kids to get a jump start on their career.

“I think the opportunity to have people going to school and be able to come out of that with at least an associates degree is going to give some opportunity to students that wouldn’t normally have that,” she said.

Justice said he wants to develop a way for high school students to earn an associate degree while still in school. He also proposed creating a 13th year for students to get additional accreditation or certifications.

The governor said in his speech that education “needs to be the center piece of everything we do.”

State BOE approves policy for changes to graduation credits, grading scale

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Board of Education approved a policy Wednesday that deals with changes to graduation credits and the current grading scale for high school students.

The board passed Policy 2510 after taking nearly 1,3000 comments from a 30-day public comment period.

The policy includes reducing credits required to graduate high school from 24 to 22. Brian Dougherty, a teacher at Ritchie County High School, told the board he’s concerned about the change.

“Lowering both the grading scale and the required credits to graduate will only give students less incentive put forth an adequate effort,” he said. “I have to ask: What is our desired outcome? Do we prefer a larger quantity of graduates or a higher quality of graduates?”

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said changing the graduation credit requirement could lead to a number of problems.

“My major concern though is the flexibility that’s given to the counties, which I think is great, but I don’t want to see us in an opportunity where students can graduate early and cause us to lose funding which in turn will cause us to lose teaching positions,” Lee said.

Social studies credits required for graduation will stay at four credits. An earlier proposal included reducing those credits to three.

On Wednesday, Christine Campbell, president of the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, urged the board to keep the four credits in place.

“Not only is the Legislature member-driven, but we are member-driven as well and our members are really concerned about the social studies credits, so if that stays at four we’d appreciate it,” she said.

The policy also includes changing the grading scale to make 0-59 an F, 60-69 a D, 70-79 a C, 80-89 a B and 90-100 an A.

The current grading scale says a 0-64 is an F, 65-74 is a D, 75-84 is a C, 85-92 is a B and 93-100 is an A.

High school students may also receive physical education credit for classes like marching band, show choir and dance.

Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine said the changes will allow more flexibility for counties in scheduling and personalizing the education of each student.

“They will have the flexibility to determine a lot. They can accept marching band as a credit for whatever if they so choose. We’re offering just policy structure that enables that,” he said.

“They take a look at what kind of requirements do they want — what’s best for their students in that area. What do the parents want? What does the community want? They can certainly exceed, what I think, is a high quality threshold for graduation credits.”

Board members approved a motion to the policy to allow Superintendent Paine to create a committee to review the policy in an ongoing basis. Board member Debra Sullivan was appointed to serve on the committee.

The changes take effect July 1.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the approval of the Every Student Succeeds Act in West Virginia and Minnesota.

According to a news release, West Virginia plans to reduce the number of non-proficient students, overall and for each subgroup, in half by 2030 and plans to provide Local Education Agency access to evidence-based interventions and professional development based on performance on individual indicators within the Statewide Accountability System. This is so that any school struggling with a single indicator receives support.

Superintendent Paine said the intent for the state’s ESSA plan is “to be a catalyst for economic growth and development in West Virginia.”

“Our goal is to ensure that every student is provided the opportunity to be successful after graduating high school in their chosen career and/or post-secondary endeavors. Our comprehensive system will individualize support and capitalize on a network of education partnerships, while supporting Gov. Jim Justice’s focus on education and economic development,” Paine said in a statement.

Armstead supports change in constitution to elect some state school board members

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead says at least some members of the state Board of Education should be elected.

There will be a resolution introduced during the upcoming regular session that will do exactly that, Armstead (R-Kanawha) said.

“It’s such a serious area of governance and to have no one that’s actually elected directly by the people involved in this decision making is something that gives a great deal of concern,” Armstead said.

The West Virginia Constitution currently calls for the appointment of all nine members to nine-year terms. The resolution would propose a change in the constitution that would require approval by voters.

“I do believe we will move forward with a constitutional amendment. That would be something that the voters of West Virginia would have to do. It wouldn’t be something that we could just do by statute. We will work very carefully at trying to move forward with a constitutional amendment that would be put before the voters,” Armstead said.

Gov. Jim Justice appointed six of the current board members in the last year. Armstead said his support of electing board members has nothing to do with the current board.

The proposed constitutional amendment would also require school board policies and regulations to come before the legislature for approval in the rule-making review process that has to be followed by all other state agencies. The change is needed, Armstead said.

“What we have and what I hear constantly from principals and teachers is that there’s this constant churning of rules and regulations out of Charleston that they are always having to try and comply with. It takes time, it takes resources, it takes effort that could be better used to educate our students,” Armstead said.

House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson) previously told MetroNews he’s heard discussion for years about changing how the state school board is comprised. This past regular session, the House Education Committee took up and passed a resolution that could have resulted in elections for state school board in 2020.

“It is definitely not a response to any recent events. It’s something that’s been a matter of debate,” Espinosa said.

Had the resolution passed the full Legislature, which didn’t happen, the question of an amendment to the state Constitution would have gone to a statewide vote.

Under the resolution introduced in House Education, districts would have been proportionately divided among West Virginia’s congressional districts. Those elected would serve 4-year terms.

The committee amended the resolution to allow for the election of six of the nine state board members on a nonpartisan basis. Three members would continue to be appointed by the governor from the state at large.

The 60-day regular legislative session begins Wednesday.

MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny contributed to this story. 

New law allows W.Va. school bus drivers to carry epinephrine

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CHARLESTON, W.Va.  County school boards in West Virginia will have the option to decide if they want school bus drivers to carry and administer epinephrine, according to a new law.

Lawmakers passed H.B. 2373 in the 2017 Regular Legislative Session to allow school bus drivers to be equipped with epinephrine auto injectors, such as Mylan’s EpiPens. The life-saving drug is used to treat someone who has a severe allergic reaction.

Implementation will vary county by county.

“All counties can choose to adopt it or none, so basically I’m sure they’re going to look at their needs, especially on buses and how many students have epinephrine auto injectors and whether or not they adopt such policy,” said Rebecca King, state school nurse consultant for the West Virginia Department of Education.

The law took affect last week. King said the goal is for schools to be prepared in emergency situations.

“It’s not removing all the allergen. It’s making sure the staff is trained and the staff is ready to respond,” she said.

Bus drivers, teachers and other school staff members will be trained on how to administer the drug if their respective school boards choose to implement the law.

“The school nurse will train them and they get trained every two years, according to policy. We fall back to state law as well and it requires every two years training,” King said.

Having the drug readily available in a rural state like West Virginia will help if an ambulance can’t reach a student in time, King said.

“Having it ready to go and not having to wait on an ambulance with anaphylactic shock – their airway closes and if you lose oxygen within four minutes, you can have brain damage,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s mainly prevention.”

School districts plan to evaluate each individual student case and then determine whether to equip drivers with the drug.