CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and supporters of his education initiatives won the first round on Tuesday as the Senate Education Committee approved a moderately altered version of his massive bill.
Union officials promised the war against the "teacher-bashing bill" was far from over.
Senators reviewed a revised bill Tuesday during the committee meeting, and a majority approved the legislation on a voice vote.
The new measure is 189 pages -- 10 more than the original bill -- and includes several compromises, said Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne.
Those changes came after discussions with unions and the governor's office, he said.
"We met with the constituency groups to try to look at the issues they had," Plymale said. "Whether we agreed with all the issues or not, they had some very valid issues that I thought needed to be addressed and we probably addressed 17 or so of those."
Hallie Mason, Tomblin's policy director, said the bill still accomplishes the governor's goals.
"It's a much stronger bill. As we move forward to work through the legislative process, we'll see where we go from here; there may be additional changes. But I've been pleased with the opportunity to work through the bill," she said.
Mason spoke about the bill in the hallway after the meeting.
As she spoke to a reporter, Judy Hale, state president of the American Federation of Teachers, tapped Mason on the shoulder and accused her of siding with the state Chamber of Commerce, an outspoken advocate for the governor's bill.
Hale then walked away. Mason followed and denied the allegation to those standing in the hallway. Several media members, legislators and others were present.
Hale said "fired up" was the wrong way to describe how she felt after the meeting and "resigned" was more accurate.
Since Friday, she and other union members have known they weren't getting the changes they wanted.
Teachers unions -- the most outspoken critics of the bill -- had complained about a variety of issues. Some improvements were achieved, Hale said, but she still dislikes it overall.
"It's still a very, very ugly bill, something that really requires a lot of work," she said. "It's not an education reform bill that is going to result in academic achievement. It's a teacher-bashing bill."
Many of the changes called for by the AFT, the West Virginia Education Association and others were included in the revised bill. Hale and Dale Lee, WVEA president, acknowledged there were some additions. Hale described them as fringe issues, and Lee said the bill misses the mark on larger problems.
The revised bill clarifies that teachers would receive seven paid holidays, and it calls for at least four faculty senate meetings throughout the year. It also calls for increased attention to professional development by the state Board of Education.
It also calls on the state Department of Education to reduce its budget for "personal services, related employee benefits and contractual expenditures related to employment" by 5 percent. The department is aware of the change and trying to figure out the dollar amount of the cut, department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said late Tuesday.
Unions say the changes fall far short when it comes to hiring, the school calendar, planning periods and Teach For America.
Seniority still would be a factor in hiring, but the bill does not say it must be weighed equally. Unions think that could lead to school administrators hiring friends or family members. The revised bill does say principals couldn't hire relatives, but unions don't think the change goes far enough.
It eliminated the requirement that the school year must be completed within a 43-week window. The change would give county school boards more flexibility in setting their calendars and an easier transition to a year-round -- or "balanced" -- calendar, supporters say.
Opponents, particularly the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, say the change will prevent employees from supporting themselves through additional employment throughout the year.