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.