The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 3, 2013

Legislators to analyze education audit

CHARLESTON — A special study group assigned to analyze Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education audit, plans to hit the ground running soon after January interims, and one idea likely to get some attention is the concept of virtual classrooms.

Faced with teacher shortages, West Virginia’s education system might benefit from a switch to online instruction in schools where teachers are in short supply, says Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette.

Perry is a veteran educator with 32 years’ experience as a principal, working at Collins Middle School in Oak Hill before retirement.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, recently named him and four other Democrats, along with four Republicans, to a bipartisan panel to examine Tomblin’s education efficiency audit — one that figures to assume a prominent role in the upcoming session.

“I think we’re going to look at virtual schools as one answer,” Perry said Wednesday.

Students could watch instruction via a television monitor and download materials on computers, working online to get the training they need for particular subjects, Perry explained.

Perry said the audit projects a redistribution of some $90 million from the Department of Education’s budget in Charleston, and some of that would be invested in the virtual classroom project.

“I don’t think anyone is intending to cut out the money,” the veteran lawmaker said.

“The idea is just how to more equitably redistribute that money in terms of efficiency.”

Perry said the use of virtual instruction wouldn’t necessarily be universally applied across West Virginia’s education system, but rather on where the need is demonstrated.

“Of course, we’ll be looking at

differential pay, I’d say, for shortage areas and in geographic areas,” he said.

Several bills have been offered in past sessions, aimed at providing higher pay not only in specific geographic areas that have lost teachers to adjoining states where salaries are more attractive, but also in specific fields, such as special education, math and science.

Another realm of discussion entails the 180-day school calendar, and how best to meet the mandate, Perry said.

“I’d say what we’re going to do is change the criteria for instructional time,” he said.

“That means you may have achieved the proper number of instructional minutes in 170 days, let’s say, if a school is going eight hours a day versus seven and a quarter. We will definitely look at the balance calendar, commonly referred to as a modification in the stop and start days for schools.”

Perry has authored a number of education proposals in the past, including one approved by the Legislature in the 2012 session that was intended to adjust strict teaching certification regulations to provide for alternative on-the-job training, Thompson noted.

“Basically, the audit overall calls for decentralization of power or authority from the Department of Education to the local boards of education,” Perry said.

“I absolutely think that’s a good thing.”

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