W. Virginia Board Won't Appeal Order
Charleston, W. Va--The West Virginia Board of Education has announced that it will not appeal the ruling of a West Virginia trial judge that the state's system of financing schools is unconstitutional.
In a press conference last Tuesday, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Roy Truby said that, while the board believes that certain aspects of the landmark ruling should be modified, it is content to work with the court to address those changes.
Mr. Truby and the nine-member board were the key defendants in a class-action suit against the state on behalf of a Lincoln County mother of five who charged that the state's method of funding schools relied too heavily on local property taxes.
In his ruling, Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur M. Recht set forth a detailed list of standards in 16 areas of curriculum as well as support services that he held state schools are required to meet to achieve a constitutionally mandated "thorough and efficient" system of free schools. (See Education Week, May 26, 1982.)
Judge Recht said he would appoint a special commissioner to assist the legislature and state agencies in drawing up a master plan for putting his standards into effect.
West Virginia Attorney General Chauncey Browning, whose office represented the board and other state defendants in the trial of the suit, has already announced that he plans to appeal the ruling. Mr. Truby said Tuesday that the board would cooperate with the appeal, if not participate directly.
Mr. Browning lost the first step in his appeal last Wednesday when Judge Recht denied his motion for a retrial of the case and refused to reconsider his intent to appoint a commissioner to oversee the implementation of his order.
Judge Recht also questioned the Attorney General's right to continue with the ap-peal since several defendants have dropped out of the case. In addition to Mr. Truby and the state board, State Treasurer Larrie Bailey has said he will not appeal Mr. Recht's ruling, leaving only the state auditor and the state tax commissioner to appeal the case.
Mr. Truby and members of the state board indicated that their decision not to appeal was based on a supplemental opinion Judge Recht issued about a week after his original ruling. In that opinion, the judge reviewed his order but emphasized that a master plan drawn up from his decision would contain only suggested standards that may be modified.
Several board members said they took the judge to mean that the standards he established were not set in concrete and that the state board may have an opportunity to alter them as it sees fit.
One board member said he welcomed Judge Recht's decision as an opportunity for the state board to examine all aspects of the state's educational system.
But another board member said he feared that "if we're put in a position of trying to implement what is required, we might have a taxpayers' revolt. That might turn things against the funding of education."
State education officials have estimated that it would cost $1.54 billion to meet all of Judge Recht's standards in each of the state's 55 counties.
Included in that figure is the hiring of 10,000 to 13,000 additional professional staff members and nearly 3,500 service personnel. Altogether, the officials predicted, the state would have to spend about $682 million for curriculum, personnel, materials, and equipment, and $865 million for new or renovated facilities.
Mr. Truby said, however, that he believes the costs will be far lower when final standards are drawn up.