The Ohio County Board of Education met with local legislators Friday to discuss topics they believe will be of concern during the upcoming session of the West Virginia Legislature, which begins Feb. 13.
Sen. Robert "Rocky" Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio; Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; and Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, talked with the board about issues of local concern, such as changes to the school calendar, the state aid formula and technical education.
Superintendent Dianna Vargo especially urged legislators to hold off on changing the West Virginia school calendar to a year-round model - a change the West Virginia Board of Education has suggested exploring. Vargo said Ohio County Schools already has started establishing the 2013-14 school calendar and asked legislators to postpone any year-round programming until the 2014-15 school year.
Ferro said he doubts that a year-round calendar would take effect next school year. He pointed out that businesses, camps and parks rely on summer traffic from students.
"If this was Florida, Georgia, California where the weather is the same all year round, I don't see the problem, but here where there are definitive seasons and people rely on these people to take vacations in the summertime, I just don't see it happening - at least not this year," he said.
Board member Christine Carder asked the legislators to consider allowing more flexibility in the school calendar, saying the restrictions of fitting 180 school days into 43 weeks make it difficult to accommodate weather-related school cancellations.
"The 180-day requirement has been a topic of discussion. I think what local school boards are calling for is more flexibility in the schedule to get those 180 days in. That's something the state may want to take a look at and see more local control for each individual county," Fitzsimmons said.
The board's meeting was of special concern after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's inauguration speech Monday, in which he emphasized education reform in the Mountain State including improving education before third grade, aligning vocational programs with the economy's needs, providing adequate instructional time for students, more innovation in schools and parents taking more responsibility for their children's education.
"It's been no secret that education is going to be a major topic for this upcoming legislative session," Fitzsimmons said. "Although we don't have specifics, because the governor has not yet released his legislative package ... we all know education is going to be a major topic."
Fitzsimmons said he thinks the topics discussed at the legislative session will be based on the $750,000 statewide education audit Tomblin commissioned that described a low-performing education system and included more than 100 suggestions to refocus resources on student achievement.
"All the topics primarily are going to based upon the statewide audit. ... It's a very voluminous document, so the topics could be in a wide range of areas," Fitzsimmons said. "I think the more controversial issues are merit-based pay and also what role seniority will play in an administrator's ability to make hiring decisions in retention issues with respect to teachers. Those will probably be more of the hot-button issues."