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WV House Ed rejects bill to nix seniority as No. 1 factor in teacher layoffs


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With seven delegates voting for and 14 against, West Virginia’s House Education Committee on Tuesday rejected a bill that would’ve removed the statewide mandate that public school teachers with the least amount of seniority automatically lose their positions when job cuts are made in a particular teaching area.

The bill (SB 401) said the least qualified, as defined by county school board policy, would be the first to go when cuts occur.

Delegates Espinosa, Harshbarger, Higginbotham, Romine, Statler, Upson and Wilson voted in favor of the legislation. All are Republicans.

A group of Republicans and Democrats voted against: Delegates Baldwin, Cooper, Dean, E. Evans, Hicks, Hornbuckle, Moye, Pyles, Rodighiero, Rohrbach, Rowan, Rowe, Thompson and Wagner voted against.

Four delegates, all Republicans, were absent: Blair, Folk, Kelly and Westfall.

“In my opinion, when we put it on the school boards to come up with their own qualifications, we’re opening Pandora’s box on, you know, politics, nepotism,” said Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne.

“The only folks that this bill is going to benefit are those in the legal field who are going to have to straighten out the mess at the local county level that this will cause,” said Delegate Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier.

“I earned, held and excelled in my jobs because of my performance,” said Delegate S. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, in speaking for the bill. “Not because I happened to be there. Not because I filled … the slot the longest.”

He said lawmakers owe students and taxpayers “the most effective and efficient education.”

The state’s two major teachers unions opposed the bill.

Last week, the state Senate had passed the bill 25-8, with Sen. Jeff Mullins, R-Raleigh, the only senator absent. Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, was the bill’s lead sponsor.

The year’s regular legislative session ends Saturday night.

The bill also said county-school-board-determined qualifications — not merely seniority and type of teaching certification — would be used to determine if an employee who loses their position can take the position of another employee in the usual “transfer,” or “bumping,” process. School boards wouldn’t be required to consider seniority at all in the process.

The bill would’ve maintained the requirement that a teacher displaced by position cuts and wanting another position must be certified to teach in the job they are bumping someone else out of.

But SB 401 would’ve cut the mandate that a higher level of seniority would be the only other requirement to bump the other employee out of a job. It instead would generically require that the employee have higher qualifications than their colleague to bump them — and the school board-set policy would dictate what those qualifications are.

The legislation would’ve applied to all “professional personnel,” including principals.

SB 401 also would’ve crossed out current law’s reference to the “random selection system” impacting employees with identical seniority. That provision has been the basis for events in Kanawha County in recent years when teachers hired on the same date had to draw pieces of paper and lottery-type balls to determine who would be deemed to have the least seniority and thus the most risk of losing their jobs.

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