By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After about four hours of discussion, questions and amendments, the West Virginia House Education Committee passed at 11 p.m. Wednesday Gov. Jim Justice’s wide-ranging K-12 education bill.
Wednesday was the first appearance of the bill in a legislative committee. It now heads to the House Finance Committee.
The committee discussed and passed Wednesday an amended version of House Bill 2711, which would eliminate the state’s eight Regional Education Service Agencies, the state Office of Education Performance Audits and the requirement that public schools have 180 separate instructional days while granting a pay raise to teachers across the state.
As amended late Wednesday night, HB 2711 would also grant a pay raise to service employees, including cooks, custodians and bus drivers. A firm figure for how much the amendment would cost the state wasn’t available Wednesday.
In another difference from the version that the governor introduced, the main amendment to HB 2711 — only revealed Wednesday — would postpone the date by which RESAs would have to transfer away “property, equipment and records” from July 1 of this year to July 1 of next year.
RESAs are multi-county agencies that are supposed to help county public school systems.
HB 2711 still is in its house of origin, meaning it still must pass the full House and full Senate. Republican and Democratic delegates both suggested that furthering the bill Wednesday night would allow the teacher pay raise to progress this session.
Ken Hicks, D-Wayne, said he opposed the bill and asked for a roll call vote, but the committee passed the bill out on a divided voice vote.
Joe Oliverio, executive director of RESA 5, defended RESAs’ work at Wednesday’s meeting. He said the executive directors of six other RESAs were there.
Trey Morrone, the Wayne County school board’s president, told the committee that he was concerned about the impact of the elimination of RESAs.
“It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to get services to our students,” Morrone said. “We can in Wayne County spent about 25 cents to get a dollar’s worth of services.”
S. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said Morrone didn’t understand the bill. He said RESAs seem to help save money through bulk purchasing, and asked if there’s any reason why he and other board members and schools superintendents couldn’t coordinate “those same bulk purchases, without the use of someone else telling you how to do it?”
Morrone said Wayne can’t necessarily shop for everything it currently receives from RESA, like adult education and technology support programs.
“I think the thing that makes me the most nervous about what I’m hearing is about the change and the transition without what appears to be a pretty solid plan in place of what we’re going to do,” Morrone said.
He said “we’re getting ready to have probably the largest layoff in Wayne County history, and I don’t know where the money is going to come from, I mean we can’t afford to be thrown into an abyss that we’re gonna try to figure out next year or the year after what’s going to happen.”
Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, asked Morrone about his stances on the bill’s other provisions not regarding the RESA elimination.
“Would you like to see a teacher pay raise, as a county board member?” Baldwin asked.
“Uh, sure,” Morrone said.
“Would you like to be able to fix the calender, the 180-day problem that we have now?” Baldwin asked.
“Flexibility, I think is good,” Morrone said.
Baldwin then asked Morrone if he’d like to see revisions to the process by which the state takes over school systems, and if he’d like to see an assessment “where students have buy-in.” Morrone didn’t disagree with either idea.
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