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State bill threatens Eastern Panhandle RESA


The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.  — Lawmakers in the state House and Senate have voted to eliminate funding and reassign the responsibility of RESA agencies to counties in West Virginia, which could affect a vast number of students, agencies and community members relying on its services.

Although many people may not know the full extent of what regional educational service agencies — RESAs — do for the state and Eastern Panhandle, families, schools and other agencies are impacted by their services.

Interim executive director Lynn Aikens said the services will be hard to replace.

RESA 8 is the local Eastern Panhandle branch of the larger agency, and Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the state Legislature initially established RESA in 1972.

RESA 8 provides EMT and firefighter training for local response companies, bus driver and substitute teacher training for schools, Head Start classrooms, technical support to schools, adult learning programs, WV Birth to Three services and more, according to the March quarterly news report.

Despite these services, lawmakers in Charleston voted to cut RESAs from the state budget. As introduced, HB2711 would have eliminated all RESAs by July 1, according to Espinosa. However, he said legislators recognized counties would need a transition plan to replace services, and amended the bill.

Currently, Espinosa said HB 2711 would end state funding to RESAs by July 1, but they could function for up to one year on their own funds while county educational service co-operatives were set up in their place.

According to Espinosa, eliminating the RESAs will take state services away from top down mandate systems and return services offered by RESA to forms similar to when they were established in 1972.

Although RESAs currently receive seven percent of their funding from the state, Espinosa said they received no funding from the state at their inception.

“They were entrepreneurial organizations running on a fee basis when they were started,” Espinosa said.

HB 2711 passed both the House and Senate. The bill will now be reviewed by Gov. Jim Justice, D-W.Va, according to Espinosa. Meanwhile, the local RESA 8 is playing a waiting game while Justice decides the future of the agency.

“We are currently in wait and see mode,” Aikens said. “The budget has not been finalized yet, but we’re not sure. It’s not over until it’s over.”

Aikens said he is very disappointed by the bill. Although it takes about $3.6 million from state funding to run RESAs, Aikens said the agency brings in approximately $50 million through federal grants and funding. According to Aikens, RESA 8 and other state RESAs also employ many people.

“(Legislators) talk about wanting to bring jobs to West Virginia, but they’ll be getting rid of jobs by cutting RESA,” Aikens said. “It’s unfortunate most people don’t understand the magnitude of what we do.”

According to the RESA 8 annual report for 2015-16, RESA 8 employs 159 full time personnel, and it affects many more community members, according to Aikens.

The Birth to Three program, which is funded by a federal grant, provides in home services to approximately 800 families. Children who display warning signs for developmental delays are referred to the program, and RESA sends therapists and professionals to work with the children. Aikens said the other programs affect an even broader range of community members.

“The Birth to Three program is not based on income, and it could go by the wayside if RESA is eliminated,” Aikens said.

If HB 2711 does go into effect, Aikens said RESAs will have until July 2018 to transition to the new county co-operative format. However, Aikens is concerned that the counties won’t be able to provide adequate funding to maintain the services the agencies provide.

“County budgets are being cut as well,” Aikens said. “How are they going to afford additional services? I hope the plan works, but there’s no guarantee. It’s completely new. Unless the state gives money to the counties for the services, I just question how it will work.”

Aikens also explained that the federal funding for programs like Head Start and Birth to Three would not disappear, but other agencies would need to bid to take up the programs. However, Aikens said the agencies would need the funding to sustain the programs.

“I’m not here to criticize or berate lawmakers. I’m a lifelong Berkeley County citizen and educator. I just want what’s best for the community and for the students,” Aikens said. “I think saving RESAs would be a very positive thing for the state.”

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