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House passes college personnel bill, forwards to Senate

By RYAN QUINN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On nearly a party-line vote, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates on Wednesday approved 61-38 a bill which would give three colleges in the state greater flexibility when laying off employees.

Democrats tried to stall a vote on HB 2542 for a day in order to get more information on what effect the bill might have on staff members at West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, but Republicans pushed it through and forwarded it to the Senate.

“I think what happens in higher education will eventually dwindle down to public education, and we’ll see our public education employees faced with the same problems we’re proposing here today,” said Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell.

The bill, if approved by the Senate, would eliminate the bumping rights that classified employees have when a college makes layoffs and would allow colleges to consider not only employees’ seniority when considering layoffs, but also their job performance, skill set and other parameters set by each college’s board of governors.

It would give the three colleges included in the bill broad power to set their own policies for firing classified employees, but it would not change the process to file a grievance, the same procedure followed by other state employees.

WVU helped draft the bill, and Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, is its lead sponsor. Although the provisions of the bill would automatically apply to WVU, Marshall and WVSOM, other colleges may be able to opt in.

Critics of the bill say that the changes will allow colleges to be biased toward firing older people who have larger salaries.

“Would you like to be treated that way? Is that the way you would want your children treating, that they can be kicked to the curb?” said Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh. “You spend years and years with an institution, and you’re no longer needed or things change — I understand situations change and we need staff reductions.”

During the second reading of the bill on Monday, Moye and a handful of other Democrats attempted to amend the bill to give employees who have been laid off a right to be recalled if another job opens up in the future. That amendment failed.

When the bill was still with the House Education Committee, Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, wanted to amend the bill to force a college’s board of governors to hold a public hearing and to consult with the school’s classified staff council and faculty senate before adopting or changing the college’s personnel rules. That amendment failed to pass after Statler said he felt it added another layer of bureaucracy.

“We have to remember what the purpose is for these institutions in the first place. Is the purpose to provide jobs for people, or is the purpose to provide a system for effective and efficient education?” said Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley. “I would say it’s to provide education. We need to allow the people who do that on a regular basis to do that as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

A similar piece of legislation, Senate Bill 274, has yet to be taken up by committee.

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