Tomblin says education reform bill addresses union's concerns
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Wednesday he and his staff have agreed to changes to his education reform bill that should satisfy most of the qualms expressed by teacher unions and other opponents.
Union officials responded by saying the governor's legislation is still far off the mark.
The state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association were among the first to cry foul when Tomblin's 179-page education reform bill was introduced.
Tomblin and members of his staff met personally with union officials this week.
During a 35-minute conference call with the Daily Mail Wednesday, he said some language in the bill has been clarified and should address "almost all" of the unions' concerns.
"I think there were probably about 18 different areas and about 16 and a half of those, we have been able to satisfy the teacher organizations," Tomblin said.
The changes will be incorporated in the form of a new bill, known in legislative vernacular as a "committee substitute."
The substitute bill makes it clear teachers will be paid for seven holidays.
Another change appears to be more than language clarification.
The governor's original bill called for only one mandatory faculty senate meeting in the state's schools each year. Six are mandated in current code.
The revised bill will mandate four faculty senate meetings, and counties would have the leeway to schedule more, said Hallie Mason, Tomblin's policy director.
"There's also language added to make sure classroom teachers are a part of the collaborative process for professional development," Mason said.
The revision also clarifies that seniority would follow teachers from school to school within a county, Mason added.
Referring to other union complaints, Tomblin said there was never any intent to require that school be held Saturdays or that teachers lose their daily planning periods.
The changes are minor but address many of the issues raised by the unions, Mason and Tomblin said.
"I'm not sure there will be 100 percent agreement. However, I think the fact that we've been able to work through so many of these issues, there will be more people coming on board with it now," Tomblin said.
Judy Hale, state head of the AFT, and Dale Lee, president of the WVEA, disagree.
Late Thursday Hale said she hadn't seen the committee substitute. Lee said he had received the measure but hadn't read all of it. But they're pretty sure the replacement still will give them headaches.
"I really think if the governor's been told that we have mostly agreed on this bill, I think he's been misinformed," Hale said. "I know he's been misinformed, because that is certainly not so."
Tomblin said the two remaining points of contention were teacher hiring requirements and altering state code that keeps Teach For America participants out of state classrooms.
Hale and Lee agreed those still were disputed topics, but both detailed others where the sides remain at odds.
The unions don't want to see hiring requirements eased in state law.
Tomblin, the state Department of Education and others say seniority is too large a factor in the process. Under current code, if the teacher applicant with the most seniority within a county is not chosen for a job, he or she must be given an explanation in writing. This causes administrators to opt for the most senior applicant, the governor and others have said.
The governor's bill would keep seniority as a factor but lessen its importance and thus give administrators more leeway in hiring.
Teach For America is a national nonprofit organization that recruits high-achieving college students and professionals to become teachers in high-need areas. Advocates for the program say current state law makes it practically impossible for participants to enter the classroom with the certification achieved through the program.
Unions say the program's training falls far short of that obtained by traditionally schooled teachers.
Tomblin considers the program worthwhile.
"Even though there are alternative forms of certification for teachers to get into the classroom, we're still facing . . . not having certified teachers in many classrooms across the state," he said.
"Teachers for America was just another option that some states have used, just another tool in our tool box to make sure we do get certified teachers in every classroom in West Virginia."
Lee was particularly irritated by the change in the provision addressing the program.
While the bill was revised so that program participants could teach in only middle or high schools, Lee said the only other switch was replacing the name "Teach For America" with "national teacher corps."
The substitute bill still doesn't adequately address Hale's issues with the school calendar, teacher transfers between schools during the year and certifications for aides in pre-k programs. She added, "They've got Saturday school in the bill still."
Lee said the revision includes changes in requirements concerning teacher planning periods that his union opposes. He also wishes the bill included more about teacher collaboration time or combating truancy and child poverty.
The union leaders have been hammering away at such concerns. Both Lee and Hale spoke at Senate Education Committee meetings Tuesday, and Hale held a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday.
Both want the chance to speak about the revised bill today when it is discussed in the Senate Education Committee.
"There has been agreement at the table of some changes that we had asked for. But I don't think we have come to agreement on most of the major issues," Hale said.
Tomblin said he thinks the unions understand a bill is going to pass, and they're not going to get everything they want. He said he wants to continue working with the organizations to alleviate their concerns.
Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, plans to bring the bill up for a vote today. The committee is scheduled to meet twice, at 2 and 5 p.m.