By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
We all remember the omnibus bill that was rejected last school year; however, it is no denying that the public education system has a lot of areas of concern due to the changes of time. During a special summer session, our local representatives from across the state have been working diligently on a bill addressing these concerns to attempt to better the education for our students. This included Delegates Chris Phillips and Buck Jennings and Senators Randy Smith and David Sypolt speaking and voting on behalf of Tucker County.
Tucker County Schools Finance Director Tracy Teets went over the highlights of HB 206 at the most recent board meeting, and what it amounted to for our county. West Virginia will be offering a tax free weekend starting next year to aid in the purchasing of qualifying school materials, such as instructional material, sporting equipment, computers, etc. The Mountaineer Challenge Academy (MCA) is potentially expanding to a second location in Fayette County, to which Teets explained the schools of which the successful completers reigned from will be charged $3,200.
Aid to smaller counties was a bullet point for schools with less than 1,400 students. Though Tucker won’t be funded on that level, there was an increase to adjusted net enrollment by 10%, which allows our funding to be based on 1,299.91 students for fiscal year 2020. Teets completed the calculations, which shows an increase for the county of $798,296.00. Senator Randy Smith verified by informing, “Eleven smaller counties with small populations are going to receive a subsidy. Tucker County will receive right at $800 thousand additional funding just from this change alone.”
“One of the most impactful provisions of HB 206 is a 5% average pay raise, $2,120 for teachers and $1,150 for service workers, to attract and retain the best folks to educate our kids. Back-to-back pay raises the last two years have given teachers and school service personnel the largest raise in state history after decades of neglect and will help to keep the best and brightest in West Virginia’s classrooms,” said Delegate Chris Phillips. Smith added, “That comes out to another $65 million in teachers pay and is the second pay raise in as many years. The bill also provides $8 million to boost base pay for math and special ed teachers.” In addition, Delegate Buck Jennings noted an additional $200 per teacher each year for classroom materials needed for the upcoming school year. Senator Smith complimented his stating, saying, “Teachers who use four or fewer days of annual leave during the school year will receive a $500 bonus. Personal days for teachers rose from three days a year to four days a year.”
There is a difficult, state aid formula that is utilized to determine the amount of money each county receives for funding. This formula has also been altered with a decrease in the local share line item from 90% to 85%, an increase of $199,738 for fiscal year 2020, though Teets noted this could also result in decreases elsewhere in the formula. “Portions of State aid that was previously restricted will now be free from limitations, including bus replacement, Step 7, and academic classroom curriculum trips. Professional staff development councils, service staff development councils, and faculty senate funding remain restricted,” Teets stated. Smith said, “We changed the school funding calculation allowing the county boards to keep more of their local tax money to pay for education which allows for more local control.”
Phillips stated, “Our professional educators have a tough job that has been made much tougher by the drug abuse epidemic and its devastating impact on West Virginia families. The bill provides $30.5 million in additional funding for student support services, adding social workers and psychologists in the definition of “professional student support personnel” to provide direct social and emotional support services to students in need.” Jennings explained via phone that the money for these services will come from an additional fund, and will not be taken from the gain of funds Tucker County is receiving.
Once Teets added all of the potential savings and increases this new bill proposed, the grand total of extra funding came to the amount of $1,003,384. “I am cautiously happy,” she exclaimed at the recent board meeting when she read this number. These figures are the result of Teets’s interpretation and guidance from the State Department of Education, though more concrete data will be out to the counties very soon. Jennings recollected the total amount increase to Tucker County was around $1.5 million dollars, which regardless is a massive increase to the current annual budget. What is also to be considered is whether these increases in staff will come out of the increase of funds for the county or if they will be funded separately. Jennings confirmed that he knows the teacher pay raises will be taken from the additional funds of the county, but the remainder is uncertain.
“The bill helps to address the shortage of certified teachers in critical areas in a number of ways. In addition to the pay raises mentioned above, it provides a $7.8 million increase in salary for those teachers by giving them a three-step increase in experience. The Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program gives scholarships of up to $10,000 per year to student teachers who agree to teach in critical teacher shortage fields in WV for five years. Additionally, it gives counties the flexibility to address their unique needs in filling their positions, instead of top-down mandates from Charleston, and gives counties more control in educating their students,” offered Phillips. Smith added, “County school systems will have greater flexibility to hire teachers in hard to fill positions. The state will now offer college scholarship of $10,000 a year to students who agree to teach in critical shortage fields for at least 5 consecutive years.”
Phillips said, “The education reform bill returns teacher input on student grade level advancement, a critical component to empowering teachers in the classroom. The provision least likely to impact the average student in Barbour or Tucker County is allowing local school boards to decide whether a public charter school might be a good fit for their district. There are only three initially permitted statewide, and they must be public schools with every provision of their charter approved in advance by the county Board of Education.” Jennings agreed, “To me, Tucker County does not need to worry about charter schools. It’s just trying to give people a choice.” Smith added, “We made it possible for county board of education to start a total of 3 chartered schools across the state. They have to be approved by the county BOE and are public schools control by the county BOE. They are not mandated just makes it legal for counties to start one if they wish.”
Phillips concluded, “I campaigned on strengthening public schools and increasing educational opportunities in West Virginia. This bill is a step in the right direction to accomplish both.” Jennings agreed saying, “We tried to give them (the teachers) everything they wanted.”