Teacher vacancies reach crisis level

Hoppy’s Commentary
West Virginia State School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano says the teacher shortage has reached the “crisis” stage. “Right now we have 718 teacher vacancies across the state,” Martirano said. “That means our young people are not receiving the quality education they deserve by a quality teacher.”

The number of teacher vacancies is rising dramatically, from more than 400 two years ago, to 593 last year and now over 700 this year. The vacancies are filled using short and long-term substitutes, educators with permits but no degree in education, and retired teachers.

The vacancies are particularly acute in special education, where 238 positions are vacant, followed by 92 open math spots, 79 openings for elementary and early education, 43 vacancies in science, 41 in English, 36 openings in administration, 32 in career and technical education, 32 in reading, 31 in foreign languages, 20 in the arts and 96 in other disciplines. McDowell County has the most vacancies with nearly 40 out of 225 teachers.

One of the reasons West Virginia has trouble filling the teaching slots is the pay. The starting salary for a first year teacher this year ranges from a high of $36,400 in Monongalia County to a low of $32,675 (23 counties) for an average of $33,685. That ranks West Virginia as low as 46th nationwide.

Martirano has proposed a three-prong approach to solving the problem:

–Creation of a Teacher Corps: Martirano wants to incentivize young teachers to work in underserved areas for three to five years by helping them pay off their student loans. For example, $1 million would enable 200 teachers to pay off up to $5,000 of their debt.

–Relaxing hiring rules: Martirano says the complicated state hiring rules make it difficult, if not impossible, for county superintendents to make firm job offers to recent teaching graduates until late in the summer. He says by then, other states have already locked down the best and the brightest graduates.

–Increasing base pay: Martirano credits Governor Justice for proposing a two-percent pay raise for classroom teachers, but concedes that won’t be enough by itself to stop the rise in teacher vacancies.

West Virginia may never be wealthy enough to raise the base teacher pay to levels that compete directly with border states. Given the state’s current budget challenges, it’s possible that even Justice’s modest two-percent raise won’t pass.

However, Martirano’s other two ideas would be much easier to adopt. It doesn’t cost anything to streamline the convoluted hiring rules so superintendents are empowered to hire qualified candidates on the spot. And his Teacher Corps concept is an economically efficient way to fill the need.

“We’ve got to do something different because the current ways of operating are not working,” Martirano said on Talkline last week.

That’s for sure. The dearth of certified, excellent teachers in remote areas and hard-to-fill disciplines creates a kind of educational death spiral; children receive lower quality education, leaving them unprepared for college and the workforce, which further increases the economic and social challenges for a region.

Martirano is leaving at the end of this school year, which means his proposals probably aren’t going to be taken seriously. That’s a shame because they make sense, and might actually help reverse the untenable trend of teacher vacancies.

Richwood mayor keeps up anti-consolidation fight

By MetroNews Staff in News
RICHWOOD, W.Va. — Mayor Bob Henry Baber says Richwood has been all but broken by the June floods. He says adding the threat of consolidation to the mix is simply going too far.

The Nicholas County Board of Education is getting public input on the matter through a series of upcoming public hearings that start this week. The first hearing will be this Friday, Feb. 24, at Summersville Middle School.
The second hearing will be Feb. 27 at Nicholas County High School.

On March 1, a hearing about Richwood Middle School will take place at Cherry River Elementary School.

The Richwood High School hearing will be March 3 at Cherry River Elementary School.

The Nicholas County Career/Technical Center hearing will be March 6 at Nicholas County Career/Technical Center.

Each hearing will start at 6 p.m.

Already, to kick back against a decision that Baber calls “cruel and unusual punishment,” Baber and the Save Our Schools Coalition have brought lawsuit against the Nicholas County Board of Education to stop consolidation of five county schools.

The proposal from the board is to close the Nicholas County High School, Richwood High School and Nicholas County Career/Technical Center into one high school at the close of the 2020 school year.

Richwood Middle School and Summersville Middle School would be consolidated into a new middle school at the end of the 2020 school year.

Both new schools would be at Glade Creek Business Park.

“The city council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the lawsuit,” Baber said. “I want you to know that we’re united as a city council, as a city, and as a mayor. We’re all together in this.”

Baber says he’s been trying to figure out how everything turned out this way.

“How did we get to this place when the superintendent in the beginning, and the board, said they were going to put these schools back, and FEMA made the commitment to pay for them?” Baber asked. “How did we get to this bad place? It’s a shame.”

Baber says he had a feeling that consolidation was coming for the county, but there wasn’t much anyone could do at that point.”

“We kind of knew this was heading towards consolidation a long time ago,” Baber said.
“Months and months ago, frankly, when they went silent on us. But you really can’t push back against silence.”

Baber says the town has suffered enough.

“This contentious, vile, nasty, unneeded consolidation being done on the basis of a flood has absolutely put the city of Richwood emotionally over the edge,” he said.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this. I’ve never experienced cruel and unusual punishment that has been rained down on a town that has been flooded.”

New look state school board dials back student testing, A-F school grading program

By Jeff Jenkins in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There will be no standardized testing in English Language Arts and Math beginning this spring for 9th and 10th graders in West Virginia. The state Board of Education voted Thursday to remove the assessment. Now only 11th graders will be tested in those areas.

The move comes from the new look school board which is strongly influenced by Gov. Jim Justice who has previously said students are tested too much in the Mountain State.

The changes keep the state in federal compliance which requires testing at least once at the high school level.

The board also voted to move away from the Smarter Balanced assessment beginning with next school year, removed language from a previous policy that referred to end-of-course exams and changed the grade levels for the statement science assessment from 4 to 5 in elementary school and 6 to 8 in middle school.

“As a board, we are committed to finding the best assessment solution for the students in West Virginia,” state Board of Education President Tom Campbell in a news release. “With that goal in mind, our board will listen to the public and our state’s educators who always have students’ best interest at heart.”

The board instructed the Department of Education to “explore options to adopt another statewide assessment.”

The A-F grading system for schools also appears just months away from elimination. The board instructed its staff to prepare a waiver, which would eliminate the controversial system, to be considered at the board’s March meeting. It said it would also begin considering another school accountability system.

The A-F program, which came out for the first time last fall, has also been heavily criticized by the governor.

Since his inauguration Jan. 16, Gov. Justice has appointed four new voting members to the school board. Board member Beverly Kingery resigned earlier this week. With her departure and another vacant seat, Justice will have appointed six voting members to the body.

Allegations of embezzlement probed in Boone County schools

By Chris Lawrence in News
MADISON, W.Va. — West Virginia State Police confirm an active investigation is underway into allegations of embezzlement in the Boone County School System. Troopers say there are indications the activity surrounded funds managed in the county’s school transportation system.

“It’s a significant amount of money involved here and involved making purchases for personal reasons,” said Lt. Mike Baylous of the West Virginia State Police. “It appears there’s more than one person involved.”

Troopers executed a search warrant on Wednesday at the Foster bus garage in Boone County. Baylous would not reveal if any evidence was seized in the investigation. He did indicate however the money involved is sizeable.

“Not a specific amount, but let’s just say it’s in the thousands of dollars,” he said. “We believe it’s been going on for a few years.”

Troopers have been interviewing potential witnesses and potential suspects this week. There is no timeline on when charges could be filed.

“We expect to have some success here and close this case, but we don’t have a timeline on that,” he said. “We don’t know how many arrests to expect, but we believe there may be some forthcoming.”