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House panel moves school reforms forward

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House of Delegates members questioned state school officials Tuesday about a section in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill that removes the state superintendent's $175,000 salary cap and strips down the post's minimum qualifications.

Those questions, though, didn't derail the legislation. The House Education Committee unanimously advanced Tomblin's bill (SB359) Tuesday. The committee made no changes.

The full House is expected to take a final vote Friday.

Tomblin's bill would allow state school board members to pay the superintendent whatever they deem appropriate. State law now limits the superintendent's salary to $175,000.

State law also requires that the superintendent have a master's degree in education administration. Tomblin's bill -- at the request of the state school board -- would require a master's degree in any subject.

House members said it doesn't make sense for the state to lower the superintendent's qualifications in a bill designed to increase student achievement.

"I feel educators in this state would expect certain education qualifications," said Delegate Ron Fragale, D-Harrison.

State school board President Wade Linger said board members want to widen the pool of people who can apply for the superintendent post.

"We're not trying to lower the bar," he said. "We just want to widen the number of people eligible for the job."

Linger said the master's in education administration requirement was "restrictive."

The requirement shut outs potential superintendent applicants such as former West Virginia Govs. Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise, and state school board member Lloyd Jackson, a former state senator who helped write Tomblin's bill.

"It's a very specific degree, and it's specific to West Virginia," Linger said. "Across the nation, it's a pretty rare degree."

Nearly 200 colleges offer a master's in education administration, according to Princeton Review.

Several lawmakers also asked about Tomblin's proposal to remove the salary cap.

Linger said state school board members would work with the Governor's Office and the Legislature to ensure the next superintendent's salary isn't excessive. Linger noted that current Superintendent Jim Phares is paid $10,000 less than state law permits.

"We know you guys control the budget," Phares said. "We don't want to damage that relationship."

Linger also took time to praise Tomblin's reform bill, saying it incorporates many recommendations from a statewide education efficiency audit released last year. The state paid an out-of-state consultant $750,000 for the report.

Tomblin's bill revamps teacher hiring practices, bolsters pre-kindergarten programs and expands the yearly school calendar. Teachers unions initially opposed the bill, but now support it after lawmakers approved last-minute changes earlier this week.

"Almost everything in this bill can be found in the recommendations in the audit," Linger said. "There was an awful lot in this thing. There is still more to be done."

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


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