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Lesson in 'shall' and 'may'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The difference between the words "shall" and "may" could mean a lot for West Virginia's teachers.

While teacher unions have fought with the state Department of Education to give teachers a bigger role in the hiring at their schools, a new policy supposed to give teachers more input is already causing problems, according to Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

That's because of one word in the policy: "may."

The Hampshire County Schools system is refusing to compensate teachers for their participation in the hiring process because the policy says districts "may" do it, instead of "shall" -- and Campbell is afraid other counties will follow suit.

"If one county is allowed to evade the law and policy, then others will certainly follow," Campbell told state Board of Education members at a meeting Wednesday. "With two words, 'may' vs. 'shall,' our professionalism is minimized, our empowerment is stifled, and the intent is lost."

While the board again delayed action on the policy -- known as Policy 5000 -- until Thursday, Campbell said she knows where board members stand, and it's not good news for teachers.

"The state board is saying they can't do anything about it, and I just don't believe that's true. I believe they have the authority to say you will compensate the teachers for this," Campbell said Wednesday. "Hopefully they will fix this policy tomorrow .... They need to clarify the language. I have hopes they'll do the right thing."

As part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill, the state school board was required to establish a hiring rule for teachers by July 1. At a board meeting held June 12, the board was accused of rushing to compile the policy in time to make deadline and not allowing enough time for public comment.

Then, at last month's meeting, the board updated the policy to address some of the unions' concerns, but teachers urged there was more work to be done.

The board delayed the approval of the policy Wednesday for another day, saying a county school system had reached out with concerns at the last minute.

"Going through this policy has been taking up all this time, and to turn around and say, 'Yeah, you can be involved, but...'" she said. "We fought to get that in there -- that they would compensate teachers -- and now they're finding a way around it, which is frustrating."

State Schools Superintendent Jim Phares said he would send a letter to county school systems encouraging them to pay teachers for their work during the hiring process, according to Campbell.

She said she understands some counties have more funding than others, but if districts aren't forced to show evidence of those money problems, there's no way to mandate counties pay teachers the right amount.

"We didn't' even expect this to come up because they had clearly defined the hours you could be paid for, to keep timesheets, all the stipulations of how to get paid," she said. "It never occurred to anyone that they could say, 'OK we don't have to.' I don't want counties to go down that road."

The state Board of Education meeting will continue Thursday, with issues surrounding a national search for the a new superintendent of schools on the agenda.

Also Wednesday, state school board members decided to keep Mingo County's school system under state control.

Board members reviewed a report conducted in March by the Office of Education Performance Audits that cited improvements in curriculum development, instructional program and the school calendar.

But the report said problems still existed in areas of finance, personnel, facilities, transportation and policy development.

The board intervened in Mingo County in 1998 due to budget deficits, low test scores and a lack of leadership. The county regained control in 2002 before the state took over again in 2005.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 


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