The Jackson County Board of Education will vote Thursday on whether or not to oppose Senate Bill 451, a sweeping education bill that has sparked controversy across West Virginia.
The board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the board office next to Ripley High School.
Superintendent Blaine Hess said the size of the education reform bill and the speed at which it has moved through the Senate has created tension surrounding the legislation.
“It’s certainly a big bill. It has some good things in it, but there are some things that deserve a lot more in-depth discussion,” Hess said. “It was introduced in one day and passed the next in the committee. There was concern about how fast it was moving since there didn’t seem to be a lot of discussion as the bill was being devised.”
Hess said the feedback he’s received from educators indicates there is a consensus that more people in the state’s education community should have been consulted about the legislation.
“When it was being discussed, those called to testify weren’t from West Virginia,” he said. “It’s my understanding that the preference of my fellow superintendents and the education community would be to break it up into smaller chucks for detailed study.”
The West Virginia Board of Education held a special meeting in which members went through the bill issue by issue. The state board voted to endorse some measures but not others. In some cases, the WVBOE took no stance.
Meanwhile, members of the state’s teacher and school service personnel unions will vote on allowing their leaders to call a statewide work stoppage “should circumstances surrounding Senate Bill 451 merit such an action,” union officials said Friday.
On Friday morning, the American Federation Teachers – West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association held a press conference to announce the vote.
The results of the vote will be presented at a meeting of local presidents next Saturday, according to information released by AFT-WV.
“Our message is simple. This coordination is a direct response to the attack and retaliation of the Senate Majority ramming the education bill down our throats,” said Kris Mallory, AFT-WV political director and assistant to the president.
Ballots and instructions have been sent to local leaders of all three organizations, who will disseminate the information to worksite representatives. Worksite representatives of all three organizations will distribute, collect and certify the ballots for their locations, the AFT-WV said.
“Let us be perfectly clear, we want our teachers to be with our students in the classrooms. We want our cooks in the cafeterias with our students. We want our bus drivers to be able to take our children to and from school. We are not simply fighting for our teachers and service personnel, we are fighting for our students and, most importantly, our communities. We cannot let out-of-state for-profit corporations decide how we educate our children,” Mallory said.
SB 451 was on second reading before the full Senate on Friday afternoon. Senate democrats attempted to modify numerous provisions in the bill, but were consistently defeated, the AFT-WV said.
“We expect the bill to pass the Senate but anticipate the pace of its advancement to slow dramatically in the House. We are optimistic the House of Delegates will fully vet the bill and utilize the committee process to address concerns in the bill,” AFT officials said in a released statement.
WVEA president Dale Lee said the bill does little to improve public schools or help students achieve.
“We’re at this point again because of the actions of the Senate, and particularly Senate republican leadership. Their attempt at ram-rodding this anti-employee, anti-public education school bill through the Senate is shameful. The speed at which the bill has moved, the cloak-and-dagger methods used in making sure it’s passed, and the lack of transparency has been amazing to everyone in the state,” he said.