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Tomblin's revised education reform bill gives concessions to teachers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A revised version of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill is expected to include major concessions to teachers who have railed against the legislation in recent days.

The substitute bill won't include a major overhaul of teacher hiring practices under a compromise being discussed, according to those familiar with the negotiations. Teachers also won't be stripped of faculty senate days. And teachers affiliated with the national Teach of America program would have to follow the same rules as other beginning teachers in West Virginia.

"Teachers across the state have voiced their concerns loudly," said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. "And I'm pleased to see that their voices are being heard."

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers - West Virginia, also was optimistic about Tomblin's revised bill Thursday. Last week, she called Tomblin's legislation the "ugliest bill I've seen in 30 years."

"I'm very encouraged by the progress that has been made [Thursday]," Hale said. "I do believe now we're eventually going to get a good bill, a bill we can all feel comfortable with."

Senate Education Committee members postponed a vote on Tomblin's education reform bill until Tuesday afternoon. The committee is still fine-tuning and proofreading the substitute bill.

"We're getting pretty close to consensus, but we're not there yet," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. "I do not feel comfortable with it right now. This is a very complicated bill."

Rob Alsop, Tomblin's chief of staff, took part in the bill's negotiations Thursday afternoon.

"I think we're making progress," Alsop said. "We want to get the bill right."

Tomblin's original bill de-emphasized the role seniority plays in teacher hiring. The revised version being discussed would give equal weight to seniority and seven other factors - much like current hiring laws, according to those who took part in negotiations Thursday. The revised bill also removes a provision that would have allowed county school boards to repost job openings to attract additional applications.

Tomblin's initial bill reduced faculty senate days to one a year. But the revised version under discussion would allow schools to hold four to six faculty senate days.

Teachers also have denounced Tomblin's legislation for cutting some teacher planning periods from an hour to 30 minutes a day. The reduced time period might not make it into the bill's final version, union leaders said.

"I think the language is going to change," Lee said.

Last year, a statewide education efficiency audit recommended that West Virginia schools allow the national Teach for America program to operate in the state. The program takes recent college graduates - most without teaching degrees - and places them in struggling schools.

Tomblin's initial bill incorporated that suggestion, which West Virginia teachers unions opposed. The revised version of Tomblin's bill would require Teach for America teachers to work toward their West Virginia teaching certification - just as all new teachers in the state must do.

"There are still many issues we're discussing," Lee said. "We will continue to have those discussions to try to come to some consensus on a bill that makes sense for the students of West Virginia."

Many of Tomblin's proposed reforms will remain in the bill's updated version. Those include measures that expand pre-kindergarten programs, ensure third-graders are reading at grade level and give county school boards more flexibility to set their school-year calendars. The final version also is expected to remove from state law a requirement that West Virginia's state schools superintendent must hold a master's degree in education administration.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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