The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 6, 2013

Teachers criticize Tomblin’s overhaul

By Lawrence Messina
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s largest school employee organization on Tuesday blasted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed overhaul of West Virginia’s education system as mostly short-sighted and contradictory.

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, told the Senate Education Committee that the bill would require additional training for teaching reading in the early grades, yet also offers certification to would-be teachers without relevant college degrees,

Hale also pointed out that the measure seeks to ensure students receive at least 180 days of instruction, as mandated by state law, but then counts toward that time any days spent attending athletic tournaments or playoffs. As written, the bill would allow a superintendent to bring the county’s entire student body to Charleston for school basketball finals, and that entire week would apply toward the instructional mandate, Hale asserted.

“I’m having a hard time believing that the drafters of the bill are really serious about instructional days, or children being in school for instruction,” Hale said.

Hale also questioned what evidenced supported Tomblin’s proposed rewrite of teacher hiring and transfer rules. Among other changes, the bill would remove language requiring a written explanation upon request when the candidate with the most seniority doesn’t get the job. It also scales back seniority’s role when job reductions prompt teacher transfers within a school or a county, a process known as bumping, and allows counties to repost job openings to attract additional applicants.

Hale said that before James Phares  became state schools superintendent earlier this year, Phares told lawmakers in October that hiring practices allowed for the hiring of the most qualified teachers, and “it was a ‘myth’ that seniority was the determining factor when filling vacancies.”

“A myth it is,” Hale said, further alleging that a senior Tomblin aide has since conceded that “there is absolutely no evidence or data to show that the current hiring practice is not working.”

Hale also challenged allegations that teachers with seniority but passed over for hiring have successfully reversed those outcomes through the state process for resolving employee grievances. A review of grievances rulings from the past three years revealed just three cases filed by such a teacher-applicant — and each of them lost, Hale alleged.

But while condemning much of the bill, Hale praised several provisions. Those would expand Pre-Kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds statewide, seek to make sure that all third-graders are reading at grade level, offer teachers in critical need subjects and communities with college loans, cover the $1,150 renewal fee for nationally certified teachers, and beef up vocational-technical training.

Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association raised similar concerns when he addressed the committee later Tuesday. His group represents teachers and administrators, while Hale’s is also allied with the association for school service workers. Hale told the committee that she spoke for more than 16,500 non-management education employees.

These groups outlined their objections as a coalition of business and industry groups stepped up their support of the bill. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce announced it had launched billboard and radio ads to urge passage of Tomblin’s bill, with newspaper ads to follow.

“Our members overwhelmingly agree that we need to make significant changes to enhance student achievement,” Chamber President Steve Roberts said in a statement.

The coalition also includes an array of trade associations representing contractors, coal operators, hospitals, insurers, TV stations and car and truck dealers. Such individual employers as Appalachian Power, Frontier Communications and the Jackson Kelly law firm have also signed on.

Tomblin told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he and his top aides have met with Hale’s and Lee’s groups to resolve differences over the bill. Those meetings also aim to help the Senate Education committee craft amendments that preserve its core goals while removing unintended consequences, such as language that Hale had alleged would wipe out paid holidays. That was not his intent, nor was he seeking to allow classes on Saturday as some have alleged by invoking bill language, Tomblin told AP.

“There will be paid holidays. No one will be losing any of those benefits,” the Democratic governor said. “What we’re trying to do is give flexibility to the local boards and schools (regarding the school calendar).

Tomblin also said he planned to issue executive orders in the coming weeks to further his push toward expanded early childhood education and career and technical training in middle schools.