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Senator proposes elections for West Virginia state education board

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March 14, 2013

West Virginia

By Phil Sletten

CHARLESTON, West Virginia: West Virginia State Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D) proposed making the membership of the state Board of Education elected positions. The Board is currently selected by the Governor of West Virginia for nine-year terms, with the approval of the state legislature. Members of the state Board of Education, per the West Virginia Constitution, have been appointed by the governor for the last 150 years.[1]

Unger's resolution would reduce the term length to six years and stagger elections, with three board members of the nine person board up each term. The districts would be determined by the state's Congressional district borders. The resolution would be put before voters on the 2014 ballot, and if approved, the first round of Board elections would be in 2016.[1]

Unger, who has been a critic of parts of Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform package, considers this overhaul part of a broader movement to improve the state's education system and improve accountability.[1] Unger's resolution was referred to the Finance Committee and the Judiciary Committee by Senate President Jeffrey Kessler (D).[2]

Opponents of the resolution, including Board President L. Wade Linger Jr., argue that state board members should be selected for their expertise. Requiring the positions to be elected, even in nonpartisan elections, would force state Board members to behave more like politicians, and some members who would be good public servants on the Board would not run for the office.[1]

According to The Charleston Daily Mail, governors in 33 states have the power to appoint state board of education members, and 14 of those states require legislative approval for those appointees. The state legislatures appoint the state boards in New York and South Carolina, and appointments are mixed between a combination of the legislature, the governor, and voters in Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, and Ohio. Only four states hold nonpartisan elections for their state board of education members.[1]

This resolution comes as the West Virginia teacher's union criticized the state Board of Education for spending on extensive state bureaucracy amid proposals for budget constraints that would affect teachers. The Board decided to add a paid staff member at a recent meeting.[3]

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