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Resolution could lead to elected WV state school board members

By RYAN QUINN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A majority of voting members on the West Virginia Board of Education would be elected by the general public, under a resolution approved by the House Education Committee this week.

The resolution (House Joint Resolution 24) would also let the state Legislature approve or reject the rules and policies the state school board creates. The school board’s current rules don’t require lawmakers’ stamp of approval, and there’s continuing debate over what the Legislature can, under the current constitution, direct the board to do through laws.

To pass, the resolution would need to be approved by two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate. Because it would require an amendment to the state constitution, voters would then have to approve it in the 2018 general election.

The proposed constitutional amendment would establish four-year terms for state school board members and leave other details, including the “procedures for elections and for vacancies,” up to the Legislature, meaning lawmakers could change those details through passing laws rather than having to get voters to approve more constitutional amendments. Currently, governors appoint all nine voting members of the board to nine-year terms, although they can be reappointed to successive terms and can continue serving after their terms expire until a governor appoints a replacement.

Due largely to recent resignations and the fact that former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin didn’t fill all the board’s existing vacancies before he left office, Gov. Jim Justice has been able to appoint six of the board’s voting members since taking office in January. That includes two who were appointed late Wednesday, the day before the board interviewed candidates for the state schools superintendent’s job.

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, is the bill’s lead sponsor. House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, are among its eight co-sponsors, all Republicans.

During Monday’s House Education Committee meeting, Delegates Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, and S. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, proposed a successful change to the resolution that would require the six elected members to be elected on a nonpartisan basis.

A proposal by Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, that would’ve turned only three board seats into elected seats filed.

“We’re looking at a statewide race, and who knows how much money it will cost?” Moye said. “… I would think that if we have six members elected that we’re almost guaranteeing that only the wealthy — well, even for those three — only the wealthy that can afford this will be able to run for these offices. I don’t know a lot of teachers, educators, principals that could afford to do that, and I don’t want to squelch their voice on our state board.”

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, expressed support for Moye’s propsal, saying he wants to make sure “that we’re not just paying for positions.”

Committee Vice Chairman Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said he opposed Moye’s proposal because “I think what we’re setting out to do here is to have the people of the state choose the majority on the board.”

The committee voted to reject Moye’s proposal on a divided voice vote.

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