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The Speaker of the West Virginia House has blasted a lawsuit aimed at the 21 members of the legislature who are public school teachers.

"Ridiculous, rambling, and confused'' is how Speaker Robert Chambers describes a conflict-of-interest lawsuit filed by Walter Hanak, a professor of history at Shepherd College, and a group called West Virginians for Citizens' Rights.

The suit demands that legislators who also hold teaching positions reimburse what they earn as teachers during legislative sessions, and that they relinquish either their teaching or lawmaking positions.

Mr. Chambers said he objects to the lawsuit's focus on teachers. "The idea of paying back salaries is just a ploy to stir up headlines and distort the issue,'' he said.

Teachers do not violate the state constitution's prohibition against conflict of interest because they are hired by county school boards, he added.

But the plaintiffs argue that it is unfair to allow teachers to run for office while employees of state colleges and universities may not.

"I find it ironic that state college professors, who receive less than half their funds from the state, are barred from serving, whereas these delegates, who receive 100 percent of their budget from the state, are making policy,'' said the plaintiffs' lawyer, John Yoder.

The state's role in providing school-based child care has become an issue in the race for state superintendent in Indiana.

Stan Jones, the Democratic candidate, was an architect of a law requiring schools to make such programs available when he served as senior education adviser to Gov. Evan Bayh.

In a news release timed to coincide with the start of school, Mr. Jones boasted that more children will have access to before- and after-school care as a result of his efforts. He noted that latchkey children are more at risk for substance abuse and other problems and that parents' productivity suffers when they have to "worry about their children's well-being.''

But Suellen Reed, the Republican candidate for state chief, faults the bill as burdensome for schools.

Ms. Reed, the superintendent of the Rushville schools, said her rural district had "few takers'' when it offered the service to parents, and that child-care providers were "upset because they thought we were trying to take over their jobs.''

"The crux of the disagreement is not over child care,'' Ms. Reed said. "The local community is where it should be addressed, not by state mandate.''
--S.K.G. & D.C.

Vol. 12, Issue 02

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