W.Va. education union leaders looking forward to public forums

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By Jake Flatley, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, is calling the upcoming public forums around the state to discuss education issues a “golden opportunity.”

Dr. Steve Paine announced Monday that the state Department of Education will host seven public forums in the coming weeks on education reform as the legislature will hold a special session on just education in the coming months.

“We can get advice from the true experts, the West Virginia experts,” Lee said during Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting. “The educators, the parents, the students, the community members, the board members, the administrators that are here in West Virginia, not coming from out of state interest groups.”

The first listening tour forum will be on Monday evening at 6 p.m. at Cabell Midland High School in Cabell County.

Fred Albert, the President of AFT-West Virginia said during Wednesday’s board meeting that he is looking forward to the forums and echoed the same comments as Lee, saying everyone needs to listen to the people in the classrooms.

Lee called the past legislative session “interesting” and noted how the state saw the results of what would happen when legislators do not listen to the people and try measures that only work for a few students. He said that these forums should focus on changes that benefit all students.

“Things like charter schools and ESAs may be good for a few students, but it takes away from all of our students and that is what we are interested in,” Lee said.

“Instead of saying let’s talk about charters, let’s talk about ESAs, why are we not saying reducing class size, putting a class size limit on grades 7-12. Why are we not talking about let’s add more counselors, more nurses, more support personnel because our kids come to school to us with so many more problems today than they did a few years ago.”

Charter schools and ESAs were the driving measures behind the two-day statewide teacher strike over Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill, that included millions of dollars for wraparound services.

Lee said he was offended when during the legislative session when he heard the outside groups saying West Virginia is failing in education. He stated that he knows the entire education community has to continue to work together as they did against S.B. 451.

“Folks this is not rocket science,” he said. “This is about listening to educators who are there every day who will tell you what changes need to be made. I hope at these public hearings, instead of focusing on 451, that we focus on things that will improve education for all of our kids.”

Each forum begins at 6 p.m.

The complete forum schedule:

  • March 18 – Cabell Midland High School, 2300 U.S. Route 60 East, Ona, WV
  • March 19 – Mount View High School, 950 Mount View Road, Welch, WV
  • March 20 – Capital High School, 1500 Greenbrier Street, Charleston, WV
  • March 21 – Woodrow Wilson High School, 400 Stanaford Road, Beckley, WV
  • April 1 – Robert C. Byrd High School, 1 Eagle Way, Clarksburg, WV
  • April 2 – Wheeling Park High School, 1976 Park View Road, Wheeling, WV
  • April 3 – Berkeley Spring High School, 149 Concord Avenue, Berkeley Springs, WV