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Oct 29, 2022
WHEELING – Two West Virginia Board of Education members from the Northern Panhandle say board members have a good working relationship with the state Legislature, and that the proposed Constitutional Amendment 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot is unnecessary.
Robert Dunlevy of Wheeling and Dr. James Wilson of Glen Dale each have more than 25 years of experience making decisions about education policy.
Amendment 4, if passed, would require all rules instituted by the state board to be sent to the Legislature “for review, approval, amendment, or rejection.”
The actions of all other state agencies in West Virginia are required to come before the legislature for review, with the State Board of Education being the only exception.
But Wilson said there is the Legislative Oversight Committee On Education Accountability (LOCEA), which reviews education policy. It is made up of members of both the House and the Senate.
Dr. James Wilson
A retired dentist, Wilson has been a state board member for five years. He has also served 20 years with the Marshall County Board of Education.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Wilson said of Amendment 4. “We’ve always felt there is a partnership between the Legislature and the state board.”
He explained most often the policies set forth by the West Virginia Department of Education are produced after the Legislature has passed a law “directing us to develop a policy”
He used school bus safety as an example.
“We put the department to work, and they delve into all the material that’s available about school bus safety, and we use it to create school bus safety policy,” he said.
The policy is next sent out to LOCEA. The Senate president and the speaker of the House get a copy to review, as do the chairs of both the House and Senate education committees.
At the same time, the public at large is able to read it online and provide their thoughts and comments on how it could be made better.
“I can tell you the people at the department pay very close attention to the comments of the Legislature and the public, though some of those comments are more in-depth than others,” Wilson explained.
One recent policy change resulted in more than 300 comments, with 50 corrections eventually made to the policy due to those comments.
Both the full Legislature and the Legislative Oversight Committee On Education have their opportunity to weigh in on policy, Wilson continued.
“If Amendment 4 goes into place, the Legislature would have the authority to review, amend, or do away with a policy without any input from the state board or the public,” he said. “To me, that seems to give the Legislature supreme power – making their relationship with the state board less than a partnership. The Legislature would usurp the policy-making process.”
Wilson said he has believed the state board to have “a pretty good working relationship” with the Legislature.
He noted when there has been an issue raised by a state lawmaker, the board most often has put them in touch with the proper person at the State Department of Education for an answer, or perhaps directed them to an official at the county level.
“I’ve never seen that there has been a problem between the Legislature and the board,” he said. “Most often, we’re pretty reasonable about things.”
Dunlevy agreed the Legislature and State Board presently work well together.
“I am opposed to it,” he said of Amendment 4. “For one, we have nine members on the board who make the rules and regulations for schools in the state.”
And all members have the knowledge to make those decisions, he continued.
“We have all been in the education field, and we are more capable of making decisions than legislators,” Dunlevy said. “No disrespect to the legislators, but they shouldn’t be in charge of the educational system.”
Secondly, the West Virginia Legislature is a part-time legislature, he noted.
“If we make a policy change … it’s not like they are meeting every day,” Dunlevy said. “It may not be until they meet in January or February before they review it, and we may need to take quicker action.”
But Dunlevy believes state lawmakers are “doing the best they can with what they have to work with.”
“I just believe they should keep education separate from the other problems they are facing,” he added.
Dunlevy is presently in the fourth year of his second stint on the State Board of Education. He previously was appointed to a five-year term on the board and has a total of nine years of experience as a state board member.
Before that, Dunlevy served 20 years on the Ohio County Board of Education.
“In my experience, when they ‘ve come before us and wanted to talk about policy they had concerns with, we’ve sat down and talked about it,” Dunlevy said of state lawmakers. “I have supported them 100%. Our doors are always open, and their doors are always open.”
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