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W. Va. Panel Recommends Reforms to State Board

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Charleston, W.Va--An advisory committee of 95 educators, state officials, and lay citizens in West Virginia has forwarded to the West Virginia Board of Education a 500-page report detailing proposals to prod public schools to meet constitutional standards.

The mammoth document, which has yet to be acted on by the board, incorporates many of the suggestions that Circuit Judge Arthur M. Recht of Ohio County offered last May when he ruled that the state's method of funding schools was unconstitutional.

But the committee's report also parts company with the judge's rec-ommendations in such crucial areas as the structure of the school-aid formula; it remains to be seen whether Judge Recht will find that it meets his demands.

At the same time, the committee itself is divided over whether the plan will inhibit the very improvements it seeks to promote.

One committee member has organized a statewide parents' group and has threatened to file an intervening suit to block the plan, which she says is too prescriptive and does not take into account the varying needs of county school districts.

Minor Changes Expected

The state board, which had been ordered by Judge Recht to deliver the plan by Dec. 15, has received an extension to Jan. 5 and is expected to make some minor changes in the standards. Judge Recht will then decide whether to accept the plan or order further modifications.

The committee was formed in September when the judge agreed to let the state board create a master plan to comply with his order.

That order called for the development of "high quality standards" in every field of study at every grade level and described in minute detail what the judge had in mind. (See Education Week, May 26, 1982.)

The committee's report, while less specific than Judge Recht's order, is equally broad. It identifies 45 curriculum areas, including traditional academic courses, vocational education, and special education, and sets forth the program of study, how it is to be taught, and what is needed in the way of personnel, facilities, and instructional materials.

It sets the maximum pupil-teacher ratios at 20 to 1 for kindergarten through grade 4 and 25 to 1 for grades 5 through 12. It also requires that each county evaluate "learner outcomes" to ensure that students are learning what the curriculum purports to teach.

The committee also recommended changes in the state's seven-step school-aid formula. The alterations would provide greater allotments for professional educators and service personnel, depending on each district's needs.

Although Judge Recht found that the state-aid formula was at the root of inequities between school districts, the panel's changes essentially leave the current system intact.

Despite the ambitious goals it describes, the plan does not give an estimate of the cost of putting all the reforms into effect. Nor does it survey the specific needs of each of the state's 55 counties.

A finance report accompanying the committee's plan projects some increased costs by calculating the expense of raising the salaries of all school employees to a uniform level slightly higher than the present state maximum. The judge had ordered such adjustments.

It also figures the cost to the state of paying all student-transportation costs instead of the 80 percent it now pays. And it sets the budget for classroom supplies and other expenses at five times the current level. Those increases alone, it is estimated, will cost an extra $23 million per year, raising the state education budget by 50 percent.

Professional Personnel

However, the estimates do not take into account the new professional personnel called for by the standards to provide extra services in art, music, science, psychology, social work, and counseling.

In addition, a panel that is studying facilities estimated that it will cost the state $750 million to build, consolidate, or renovate buildings to meet acceptable standards.

The master plan envisions a transition period lasting to the year 2000 to put the standards into effect. The process, as outlined by the committee, will begin with an effort to equalize salaries and work in the new standards as finances permit.

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