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West Virginia Votes To Keep Independent State Board, Superintendent

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By an overwhelming margin, West Virginia voters have rejected Gov. Gaston Caperton's call for a constitutional amendment giving the governor and the legislature more authority over education policy.

The proposal to abolish the state board of education and the state superintendent's office as independent, constitutionally authorized entities was defeated by a vote of 217,409 to 29,030 on Sept. 9, according to an unofficial tally.

The amendment--a key element in Mr. Caperton's campaign to reorganize state government--would have allowed the creation of a new board and superintendency answerable to the Governor and the legislature. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1989.)

Currently, the constitution bars either the legislative or executive branch from reviewing rules, regulations, and policies developed by the board and superintendent.

Two other constitutional changes backed by Mr. Caperton also were defeated by lopsided margins. One amendment would have allowed cities and counties to merge services; the other would have abolished the offices of state treasurer, secretary of state, and agriculture commissioner.

The crushing defeat of the education proposal represented a victory for a coalition that included all but one of the major education groups in the state.

Only the West Virginia Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, endorsed the amendment.

Critics of the proposal had warned that it would have made public education subject to political-patronage appointments. Moreover, they argued, it would have concentrated excessive power in Mr. Caperton's hands by allowing him to appoint all nine members of the new board at once.

Supporters of the amendment also failed to give voters a clear vision of its impact, said Kenneth Legg, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association and vice president of the education coalition.

In addition, the vote reflected disappointment and frustration with Mr. Caperton's administration, particularly because of his support of a $400-million tax increase adopted by the legislature this year, Mr. Legg observed.

"Voters were frustrated with some matters that have transpired," he said, "and they perhaps might have been voting their protest."

A spokesman for the Governor criticized the campaign against the amendments.

"The opponents unfairly politicized the positive intent of the amendments," Steve Cohen, the spokesman, said.

The Governor, he said, was attempting to make the board more accountable to the public. The panel is currently the only state agency exempt from legislative oversight, Mr. Cohen said.

He noted Mr. Caperton's government-reorganization plan already has resulted in the consolidation of 150 state boards, agencies, and commissions into seven state agencies organized by function.

Mr. Cohen also rejected accusations that Mr. Caperton was attempting to make "a power grab" over public education.

"That had nothing to do with it," he said. "It had to do with more accountability in the administration of education programs."

Mr. Cohen agreed, however, that the proposals involved complicated and confusing issues and that the tax increase may have played a role in the amendments' defeat.

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