Published Online: March 16, 2010

W.Va. Gov. Determined to Call Education Session

The Legislature can count on returning to the Capitol soon to ensure West Virginia wins funding during the next round of federal "Race to the Top" education grants, Gov. Joe Manchin said Monday.

Two days after lawmakers concluded their 60-day regular session, Manchin said he definitely intends to convene a special session that will also focus on the larger goal of improving schools and student achievement.

The governor also kept up pressure on the state Department of Education to shape the upcoming agenda and address the state's failure earlier this month to become a finalist for the initial batch of competitive grants.

"If a team has a losing season, people want better results," Manchin told The Associated Press. He later added, "I'm not blaming. I'm just saying that if you're in charge and it's not happening, you'd better change."

A May special session appears likely. Facing a June 1 deadline to apply for the second round of grants, West Virginia officials expect to learn early next month why the first attempt missed the mark.

Manchin first issued his challenge during last week's meeting of the state Board of Education, where he heard of the thousands of hours devoted to assembling the state's initial application.

"They were all tickled to death about how hard they worked," Manchin said Monday. "I told them, 'You don't want to repeat that scenario. You're going to have to take the lead. You're going to have to fight for the changes that need to be made in education."

But while he continued to question the length of the board members' nine year terms, Manchin said he places the burden of his challenge on the department and state schools Superintendent Steve Paine.

"The board's role is to hold the department accountable, and when the results aren't good, hold them accountable for making the changes that will produce better results," the governor said.

Paine said Monday his office is ready for the task. He agreed with the governor that the department should consider replacing more than just the superintendent when it takes over a poorly performing county school system.

"There are times when there are personnel that should be removed when they are not willing to improve or able to improve," Paine said.

The department continues to oversee schools in a half-dozen counties, including Lincoln, where it soon expects to restore the local board's control. Manchin said the policy of trumping such an elected body should make the idea of charter schools more palatable to state officials.

"Charter schools represent an attitude change," the governor said.

West Virginia is among 11 states that don't allow such publicly funded yet independent schools, and they account for 40 of the 500 points in Race to the Top's scoring system. Paine said he remains open to the concept, but cited mixed findings from studies of their performance.

"There are some that do well, there are some that do horribly," Paine said. "They typically take resources away from poor children in other schools. I want to make sure we don't do that."

Manchin also said Monday that the special session's agenda should include the state's massive funding shortfall involving future retiree health care costs. He noted that teachers and school workers have been promised much of these other-post employment benefits, or OPEB.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia has called for any education session to include OPEB-related proposals. AFT-WV President Judy Hale told the AP last week that her group is willing to negotiate over such likely agenda topics as charter schools, teacher evaluations, and staff hiring and firing practices.

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