Mixed reviews for Tomblin's vetoes

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Mixed reviews for Tomblin's vetoes
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

Many current and retired teachers along with school administrators in West Virginia continue to criticize Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s vetoes of two education bills the Legislature approved during the 2016 Regular Legislative Session.

“I’m very livid and very displeased with the Governor,” said Delegate Dave Perry (D-Fayette, 32), who retired after 35 years in education, of the Friday vetoes of HB 4171, also known as the school calendar bill, and HB 4014, which would have codified the Common Core repeal and ended Smarter Balanced Assessment testing.

The school calendar bill, Perry argued, was written to provide “stability” by limiting school years to between the dates of Aug. 10 and June 10 and allowing banked school minutes — accrued time — to be counted toward reaching the 180 separate school instructional days required in state law.

In 2015, it was nearly the end of June before the school year wrapped up in several West Virginia counties that were forced to make up a long list of snow days. Attendance dwindled.

“I think you have to talk quality vs. quantity,” Perry said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.” “Where did we get 180 days? No one can give you an answer, other than 180 days was pulled out of the air. What is magic about the 180 days if the quality is not there?”

Mike Green, president of the West Virginia Board of Education, sees that 180 days, established in the 2013 education reform law, as a needed minimum.

“I’m obviously disappointed that our teachers are upset about this, but we believe this is very, very important for our kids to be in school,” Green said. “That 180 days, that seat time, is not the end-all for education, but it’s certainly the minimum in terms of the number of days we want our kids physically in school.”

He applauded Tomblin’s vetoes.

More daily minute inclusions to get to 180, Green contended, would have missed the point since county school leaders already have flexibility to create their own local school calendars to prepare for bad weather or other events leading to school cancellations.

This year, for example, most school calendars were built so the first semester wrapped up before the December Christmas break.

“With proper planning, a county school system should be able to achieve 180 separate days of instruction without encroaching on summer vacation to a great degree,” Tomblin wrote in his Friday veto message.

Green echoed that.

“Our focus is exclusively on school improvement and student performance,” he said. “Adding 15 minutes to the day, by some people’s views, would be an opportunity for the kids to sit in the cafeteria 15 more minutes waiting for a school bus to show up (and) is not a good example of how we improve student performance in our schools.”

Perry was also among the lawmakers supporting the second rejected proposal to replace Smarter Balanced Assessment standardized testing with the ACT.

In Green’s view, it’s not a decision for lawmakers. “That decision should be (left) up to the professional educators,” he said.