Senate Finance’s counsel went
through the fiscal note attached to the committee substitute of the Governor’s
Education bill point by point, explaining the 10 sections of its cost savings
and additional expenditures. Committee Chair Sen. Roman Prezioso of Marion County.
“When you look at that
balance sheet it comes out to zero. There will be just as many expenditures as
there will be cost savings,” Prezioso said.
One of the biggest
expenditures is the more than $3 million to create a full day, five-day a week
pre-K program by the 2016-2017 school year.
Major savings include $1
million from moving professional development for educators out into the eight
RESAs, more than $2.5 dollars saved from reassigning personnel already on staff
to schools or grade levels in need of more teachers and another $1 million saved
by the reduction of Department of Education staffing by 5 percent during this
But it was the hiring of a
new Director of Operations by the state Board of Education Wednesday that
concerned Sen. John Unger of Berkeley County. He said if the Board is just shifting money
allocated for the Department of Education to itself, then they aren’t really
reducing costs. He questioned Board President Wade Linger.
“If there’s a position that
goes unfilled in the West Virginia Department of Education, all you would have
to do is shift it over to the Board of Education. On the spreadsheet at the
Department of Education, it would show a decrease, but you would have an
increase,” Unger asked, “but they would be able to meet the letter of the law,
the 5 percent decrease as they shift these unfilled positions over to the Board
of Education, right? It sounds like if you can do it now you can do it in the
“Senator, I assume so, but I
would like to think that the people in this process have integrity and we know
we’re going to be standing here answering questions,” Linger responded.
Linger explained the $104,000
salary paid to the Board’s new position, a position created during their work
to respond to the education audit, is coming from a funding stream that already
exists in the Department of Education.
With that, the committee
voted and passed Senate Bill 359, with Senators Unger, Chafin, Yost and
Facemire voting against it.
But Sen. Unger’s rally for
reform and accountability didn’t stop in the committee room. He took his
concerns to the Senate floor with a proposed Constitutional Amendment.
According to the West
Virginia Constitution, the governor appoints members of the state Board of
Education to nine year terms. Unger’s amendment would change that to a vote by
the citizens; something he said is done with local boards and in every other
branch of government and allows the voters to hold them accountable.
Unger said the members of the
Board have too much influence in policy making to not be held accountable by
“There are 115 policies that
actually are produced by the state Board of Education that has no, really no
oversight from any branch of government. Now, I want to show you something,
this right here is West
law,” he said.
Unger holds up a paper back
book that looks to be hundreds of pages long.
“These are all the laws that
we passed for education. I couldn’t carry them all, but this right here
represents just four education policies.”
He then holds up what appears
to be a 6 inch three ring binder.
“Four of the 115 that the
state Board of Education passes down to the counties,” Unger said. “Now, in
order for me to get all of them here, I would have had to have 31 books.”
Unger went on to say that the
focus of the reform has been on teachers, especially on hiring practices, and
with this amendment, he’s proposing reform from the top of the ladder down.
“They’re hiring people
without even appropriation from the West Virginia Legislature because they’re
reaching in, taking money that was appropriated to the West Virginia Department
of Education that was supposed to go to our children for education and they’re
taking this to hire staff,” he said.
“Now, I’m not debating the
issue that that staff person is needed, but the issue is accountability and
process,” Unger said. “I am sick to death of being 49th in education
and I think we need reform and we need reform badly.”
The governor’s bill to reform
education was put on the fast track and will be up for a vote by the full