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Education bill clears Senate Education Committee

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.

Lee didn't think planning periods were an issue anymore, but the revised bill still says the allotted time must be at least 30 minutes. He wanted that number bumped up to 45 minutes, while others want it increased further.

The name "Teach For America" is no longer in the bill. Replaced by "national teaching corps," the section still would allow the organization to enter the state on a broader scale.

Teach For America is a private, nonprofit organization that places high-achieving college graduates in under-served schools nationwide.

Participants would be required to take 18 credit hours of training specific to West Virginia schools under the revised bill. They also could be placed only in middle schools or high schools. They already were required to pass an exam for the subject they were expected to teach.

Whispers of more changes, mostly in the union's favor, amounted to little more than rumor.

Plymale and union leadership agreed they met last Thursday night to discuss the bill, but talks "fell apart" when it came to hiring practices, Plymale said.

Both Lee and Hale thought they had assurances of an agreement, only to see changes after that meeting.

"Actually, (state Superintendent Jim) Phares was in the meeting and agreed to a change on the teacher hiring practices and shook hands on it," Hale said Tuesday morning.

"Then he called at 7 o'clock on Friday morning and said, 'I renege on what I agreed to yesterday.'  And so the bill just kind of fell apart from there."

Phares and Plymale both said that was inaccurate. There was never any agreement to Plymale's knowledge, and Phares doesn't have any legislative power anyway, Plymale said.

"I think a couple of comments that I've made may have upset them," Phares said in an interview Tuesday.

"They said that Dr. Phares said, 'No retreat, no surrender.' You're absolutely right, I did say that, and I said it because of this -- we're in support of the governor's bill. We have been. It makes sense. It's good for kids."

There was little discussion of the bill among committee members during Tuesday's meeting.

Sens. Dan Hall, D-Wyoming, and Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, each proposed changes.

Hall wanted to eliminate the provision that allowed Teach For America; to extend the 43-week contract period to 46 weeks; and to state specifically that seniority should have equal weight among the hiring criteria.

All three suggestions were rejected.

Carmichael proposed a change that related to planning periods. It also was quickly rejected.

Hall, along with Sens. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, and John Unger, D-Berkeley, voted against the bill. Beach and Unger had voiced concerns with the bill before Tuesday's meeting.

The measure now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Although a family emergency meant Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, had to return to his home in Fairmont Tuesday, he pledged to be back in Charleston this week.

The bill will come up for a vote when his committee meets at 3 p.m. Thursday, Prezioso said. He believes it will pass.

Unions are preparing to shift their focus to the House Education Committee. While Lee said it's important to stay in touch with senators because they get final approval of the measure before it goes to the governor's desk, Hale said she's moving full steam ahead with the House.

The AFT and WVEA staged an "informational picket" Tuesday morning outside the Capitol to protest the bill. They're planning one for today's meeting of the state Board of Education as well.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at ;


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