By JOSELYN KING
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — School districts in West Virginia would get an extra year to form cooperative agreements for services presently provided by the state’s eight regional service education agencies under legislation now on its way to the House Finance Committee.
House Education Committee members Wednesday night advanced House Bill 2711, sending it to the Finance Committee after a marathon meeting that lasted until after 11 p.m.
The original legislation introduced at the request of Gov. Jim Justice would have abolished and defunded the RESAs effective July 1, but the measure passed in committee Wednesday changes that to provide for a more gradual phasing out of the RESAs over the next near.
Under the measure, the current RESAs would continue to operate until July 1, 2018 — giving county school districts an added year to form cooperative agreements and transition services once provided by RESA.
The measure would establish four regional Superintendent’s Advisory Councils to coordinate county efforts to save money in areas of administrative and operational costs.
“The way I understand it, we would be abolishing RESAs, but relying on a different system,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “Wouldn’t it be fair to say we’re pushing the financial resources on county boards?”
Counsel advised Rowe that while the legislation would cut off funding for RESAs, it also would be giving school districts an added year to work out cooperative agreements for services. In addition, the measure would establish the four regional councils to facilitate cooperative efforts.
Locally, RESA 6 encompasses the Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio and Wetzel county school districts, while Tyler County Schools is in RESA 5.
Joe Oliverio, executive director of RESA 5, asked members who would pay for such provided services as collective purchasing and Medicaid facilitation if the RESAs are eliminated.
“If you are going to make us a cooperative, we will have to charge for services,” he said. “Our customers are the counties.”
Among provisions also included in HB 2711 is language providing teachers an annual across-the-board bonus of $808. It also would eliminate provisions calling for yearly standardized testing of students at each grade level.
State Deputy Superintendent of Schools Cindy Daniel told the committee the $3.7 million the RESAs receive from the state equals only about 7 percent of its annual budget of about $50 million. She said she was confident the extra year would give the RESAs time to find a way to continue to provide services.
The committee rejected a proposed amendment to restore $2 million in state funding to the RESAs for the next year.
Members approved a second amendment giving service workers an $80-per-month pay increase, effective July 1.
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