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Bill would redraw map of school districts


The Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Some representatives in Charleston believe the West Virginia school system needs to be changed, and one legislator introduced a bill that would eliminate county boards of education and establish 10 statewide school districts of approximately 180,000 students each.

A high school graduate from Charles Town, Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, is the lead sponsor for HB 3008, the bill aiming to eliminate county school districts.

Walters said he began drafting the 808 page bill because constituents in Kanawha County were asking him why there had to be 55 school districts across the state.

“This bill was drafted in response to those questions and in response to the budget crisis,” Walters said.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said there have been conversations in Charleston about the current county district system since he was elected in 2012.

“I applaud Walters for putting this bill together,” Espinosa said. “The length of the bill may make it difficult to take up in this legislative session, but it’s something I think we need to look at closely and carefully.”

Walters has no false hopes for the bill this session. He agreed that the bill would not be passed this year, but he said the other representatives have expressed interest in starting a study based on the bill. Walters said the studies and conversations the bill generates are going to be an important part of evaluating the current West Virginia education system.

In addition to eliminating county school districts, Walters said the bill would also eliminate RESA VIII programs. The EMS training would be delegated to local health departments, and fireman training would be assigned to WVU training facilities in the state.

Benefits of consolidating county school districts would be reduced administration costs and better use of grant money, according to Walters.

“It could save the state up to $300 to $350 million a year,” Walters said. “Not everyone is going to agree with every aspect of this proposal, but I know for sure that having 55 school districts in West Virginia isn’t right.”

Berkeley County Superintendent Manny Arvon said Berkeley County is the second largest school district in the state, and he doesn’t think the proposal would have much of an effect on the Berkeley County community. However, he said it might have more of an effect on smaller districts such as Morgan County where there are only about 2,400 students.

Espinosa, chair of the House Education Committee, said it’s important for representatives to understand all of the costs associated with the bill.

“We might make a study resolution to look closely at what it would be like to restructure the education system,” Espinosa said.

The enrollment and population decline across the state is one of the reasons why the school districts may need to be reevaluated and examined, according to Espinosa.

Although Walters highlighted the potential positive effects the bill would have, Espinosa said there are concerns to address as well. For example, Espinosa said many people like having local school districts when they need to address concerns, which may be harder to do with a bigger district.

“There may be objections to the bill, but every member will have a chance to give input,” Walters said. “The goal is to build constructively and move forward more effectively.”

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