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State board ready to tackle Tomblin's education priorities

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Board of Education members say they're ready to work with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to help reform the state's public schools.

Board President Wade Linger wrote a letter to the governor's office on behalf of the board on Thursday, detailing the board's plans to tackle Tomblin's list of priorities for education reform, which include establishing a Commission on Small School Systems to review the current structure.

Tomblin wrote the board a letter on Wednesday, the day of his State of the State address. Education was the primary focus of Wednesday's speech, with an emphasis on enhancing student performance by first increasing the number of qualified teachers in the state.

In Tomblin's letter, the governor calls for six proposals that will "more efficiently and effectively provide the leadership our education systems needs and deserves" - many of which align with the education audit conducted in 2011 at his request.

"The audit made several fiscal efficiency findings targeted at providing a high return on educational expenditures. Continued consideration of these findings is an important part of identifying available funds to be reallocated towards our mutual educational goals that increase student achievement," Tomblin wrote in the letter. "It is my goal to strengthen the working relationship between my office and the board."

Tomblin's proposals for the board to consider include:

  • Provide certification for elementary teachers in order to assure that students are proficient in reading by the time they hit the third grade. The board should use its authority provide this professional development for all elementary teachers in the state.
  • Establish a commission to review the current structure of 55 separate county boards of education and the subsequent administrative costs.
  • "Aggressively pursue" an overhaul of the Regional Education Service Agencies to decentralize the delivery of services to schools by moving away from a top-down method and become more local.
  • Provide high school students with access to community and technical college staff to prepare them for post-secondary opportunities.
  • Require every career center to adopt the Preparation for Tomorrow standards as laid out by the Southern Regional Education Board.
  • Consider Project 24, a program developed by former governor Bob Wise that integrates technology into everyday lessons for students to enhance college readiness.
  • Auditors claimed that if all of its 50-plus recommendations are implemented, the state could save more than $18.1 million in the first year and more than $115 million over five years. Based on a sample of three county school systems, the audit predicts that the state is looking at a total of $90 million in savings if all the changes are put in place.

    In the board's response letter written to Tomblin sent Thursday, Linger commends the governor for his attention to education this session, saying "The board stands ready to help you in any way we can with the adoption of your agenda."

    The board promises to "use all of its authority" to ensure that elementary teachers are trained to produce efficient readers and to report back the findings from its soon to be Commission on Small School Systems.

    "With a decline of over 26 percent in student enrollment since 1980, there is every reason to review this part of our education governance structure," Linger wrote in the letter.

    The board also pledges to "pursue all actions necessary" to maximize the benefits of the RESAs, with a main goal of "redirecting resources to efforts that can have a direct impact on raising student achievement."

    "We view your letter and this response as just the beginning of a long-term approach to address the positive agenda you have set for public education," Linger wrote. "The board wants to work with your administration and the Legislature in a cooperative manner to raise student achievement in West Virginia - a goal that none of us can achieve without the support and assistance of the other."

    Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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