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Another teacher walkout looms over Wayne County

January 30, 2019

HUNTINGTON - If there was any underlying hope the so-called “omnibus” bill would quickly and quietly sail through the West Virginia Legislature to a major education overhaul, it’s obvious that will no longer be the case.

The statewide scene this week has been eerily reminiscent to the brewing angst preceding the 2018 teacher’s strike as dozens of community forums convened to discuss the bill - stoked by confusion and concern of the 144-page bill’s apparent fast-track through committee to the Senate floor.

The AFT met in Wayne County at 6 p.m. at Spring Valley High School to discuss the possibility of another walkout, while the WVSSPA will meet tonight at Wayne High School for the same purpose.

More meetings are planned throughout the week in the region.

Del. Robert Thompson said he opposes the lengthy bill and cited several reasons for doing so in a social media post.

Some of those reasons include “allows counties to increase their tax levy rates by majority vote of the BOE, establishes charter schools, increase the number of students allowed in elementary school classrooms, prevents payment of employees when schools are closed during a work stoppage, open enrollment allowing students to attend schools in other counties, removes seniority as the determining factor in employment, transfers and reductions-in-force and more.

Seem familiar? These are some of the issues teachers walked out for just last year. A “Our Students First” rally has been set at the capital for tomorrow at 5 p.m.

At Marshall University, a meeting hosted Monday night by public school advocates Families Leading Change had to move to a bigger conference room as more and more parents trickled in, bringing their concerns about the bill with them.

There’s a lot to unpack in the novel-esque bill; but for Raine Klover, it boiled down to funneling money away from public education to private entities - charter schools. While proponents have billed it as a path to world-class education for a state sorely in need of boost in that direction, Klover’s concern was that diverting money from public schools would only make the situation worse.

“We have the lowest educational attainment here in West Virginia, and this is just going to continue that cycle,” said Klover, a parent to students at Huntington High and Huntington Middle schools.

Another issue was the proposed expansion of class size in elementary schools, allowing for up to 31 students per elementary class. Not only would this split the personal teacher-to-student attention even more, Klover noted it would compound more stress on already overwhelmed school employees.

“Teachers deal with so much already - kids who have varying levels of ability and home support - and increasing that is a recipe for disaster,” Klover said.

It’s a concern shared by Kimberly Todd, whose son also attends Huntington High. While she has nieces and nephews who have succeeded in and beyond charter schools in Philadelphia, Todd noted how much bigger and more well-funded Pennsylvania is to West Virginia.

Like Klover, her dissent was rooted in the notion of preserving funding for public schools.

“I just don’t want someone coming in saying ‘Hey this is our tent we want to put up, but we need some money to do it,’” Todd said referring to potential charter schools. “No, no, no, that’s not fair to Cabell County - that’s not fair to West Virginia.”

She continued that the bill seemingly appeared out of nowhere, was approved committee within nearly 24 hours, and fast-tracked to the Senate floor in a method used only twice in the last 102 years, adding on a palpable coating of suspicion.

“I had no idea about charter schools coming to West Virginia, funneling money away from public schools, and I just don’t like that,” Todd said.

Across the county at Cabell Midland High School, the American Federation of Teachers hosted a concurrent meeting for school employees to explain the details of the bill, as it and the state’s other major teacher union, the West Virginia Education Alliance, stand in opposition.

Frank Albert, the newly elected president of AFT-WV, said the bill was clearly put together without input from parents, teachers or anyone but a very few, and influenced by what he said were “outsiders and profiteers outside of this state.”

Cabell County Superintendent of Schools Ryan Saxe also spoke out against the entirety of the bill, calling it rushed and bereft of anything to benefit public schools.

With the bill now on the Senate floor - though still technically in the committee phase - Albert stressed the “extremely important” role parents have in understanding the bill and its potential impact on public schools.

“We need our parents to be behind us and to understand what this bill will do to public education,” Albert said.

“Because it’s going to change the face of public education in West Virginia - it’s going to defund public education.”

West Virginia and Kentucky are two of seven states that do not allow charter schools in the education system.

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