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Dismantling WV Education and the Arts Department eyed


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House Education Committee, in a voice vote with a few nays heard, passed Wednesday night a bill that would eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts and transfer most of the agencies it contains elsewhere in state government.

House Bill 2524, of which committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, is the lead sponsor, also would essentially eliminate the secretary of education and the arts position and would eliminate the current Center for Professional Development, which is under the Department of Education and the Arts. The Center for Professional Development, a teacher training agency, already had its state funding cut by about a third for this fiscal year.

The department’s Library Commission, Division of Culture and History and Division of Rehabilitation Services would be transferred to the Department of Commerce. The Educational Broadcasting Authority would become an independent agency within the executive branch.

The Volunteer West Virginia community service agency, the final agency within the department, isn’t made part of the department through law other than the fact that its funding line items are under the department’s budget. The separate budget bill could transfer the line items elsewhere if the department is eliminated.

The Department of Education and the Arts is separate from the state’s Department of Education, which generally oversees K-12 education.

Following an amendment Wednesday night from Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, the bill was amended to require the state Board of Education to establish a Center for Professional Development within the state Department of Education. David Mohr, a committee staff member, said the amendment still won’t move the “restrictive statutes” and independent governing board of the current center to the Department of Education, but would preserve language laying out the existing Center for Professional Development’s mission.

The Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System, released in 2012, recommended consolidating oversight over all professional development — a term used to refer to continuing employee training — into the Department of Education, rather than splitting that role between the Department of Education and the Department of Education and the Arts.

The bill, which now heads to the House Finance Committee, also includes changes to existing law regarding professional development beyond that provided by the center.

“The thrust of the legislation is to really reinforce the principal as the instructional leadership of the school and to move a lot of that decision-making down to the local level,” Espinosa told House Education members Wednesday afternoon — the first time the committee took up the bill, at about 2:45 p.m.

Espinosa said he doesn’t have an estimate of how much money the bill could save, and said saving money isn’t its main focus. He said “I think the elimination of the Department of Education and the Arts is more incidental to the overall purpose of this legislation,” which is to “empower the local principals and really move much more of that decision making to the school and district level as opposed to trying to dictate from Charleston what type of continuing education educators need.”

He said with the current Center for Professional Development ceasing to exist under the bill, he sees less need for the department to house its remaining agencies.

“The primary focus of this legislation is to reinforce the principal as the instructional leader of the school and to emphasize the need and expectation that that principal will in a collaborative manner tailor a continuing education program at his or her school that reflects the needs of the faculty and others at his or her school,” Espinosa told the Gazette-Mail. But he also noted past discussions about costs of alleged “duplicative bureaucracies.”

“Forty-three sections of code is huge,” Moye said, referring to the parts of law affected by the 77-page bill. “That’s a lot and, to that end, I would request that we move this bill to a subcommittee.”

“I have read it, I have tabbed it and I have marked it, and I’m going to be honest with you, I still don’t understand all of it,” said Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell.

But a subsequent roll-call vote to send it to a subcommittee failed on an 11-11 tie, and a re-vote on sending it to a subcommittee — because the first vote wasn’t done alphabetically — failed 12-10.

Espinosa, who voted against sending the bill to a subcommittee, pushed ahead with debate on the bill, holding about two hours of discussion before breaking around 5 p.m. to reconvene at 7 p.m. The committee meeting ended around 9 p.m., following amendments to the bill.

Former state Board of Education president Gayle Manchin, whom Gov. Jim Justice appointed as secretary of education and the arts, said that, since she started the position Jan. 17, she’s worked to start consolidating the department’s employees from various agencies into the Culture Center and the West Virginia Public Broadcasting building. WVPB is part of the Educational Broadcasting Authority.

The former first lady said her past staffing restructuring and this consolidation, which is not yet complete, will help the department save money on rent and save money by sharing employees, like communications workers, across multiple agencies.

Sue Chapman, the department’s chief financial officer, said Manchin’s plan, which also includes the elimination of vacant positions, should save $1.4 million next fiscal year.

“They’re not saving anything, nothing,” Chapman said of Espinosa’s bill. “But it will put programs — it will put those programs and activities at risk. I don’t know where they’ll go or how they’ll be managed.”

The estimated financial impact of the bill is not yet known.

“I guess I’m sorry that they never felt compelled to have us come in and talk to the agencies and talk to me before they wrote the bill,” said Manchin, who is the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Espinosa said he started drafting the bill before Gayle Manchin became secretary, and that he actually did meet with her after she was appointed. He said he didn’t provide a lot of detail to her on the bill, because it still was being finalized, but did tell her the bill he was contemplating would eliminate her department and spin off its agencies.

“We certainly welcome their input,” Espinosa said of Manchin’s department.

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