Ohio County Board of Education Members Delay Response to Senate Bill 451

Photo by Joselyn King Ohio County Board of Education President Zach Abraham, left, Superintendent Kim Miller and Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones lead discussion during Monday’s meeting of the Ohio County Board of Education.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in Ohio County Board of Education member Molly Aderholt’s quote in the seventh paragraph. Aderholt said “I am not signing something that was drafted by a third party,” not I am not signing something that was affected by a third party,” as originally reported.

Unions representing teachers and school service employees presented Ohio County Board of Education members Monday night with a resolution denouncing Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill presently before the West Virginia Legislature.

School board members opted not to act on it.

“The resolution presented to us is something I will not agree to,” said board member and attorney David Croft. “Nobody is going to write resolutions on boards that I sit on other than the board and its counsel.”

The sentiment was one shared by the other four board members.

“If we have to sign a paper to show our support for teachers, that is very sad,” said member Sarah Koegler. She said the board has worked very hard in the past to support its teachers.

Member Molly Aderholt, who is also an attorney, said the bill “is still changing, and could be completely different by tomorrow.”

“It’s premature to be signing a resolution,” she said. “As other members have said, I would want to write it myself or have counsel write it. I am not signing something that was drafted by a third party.”

The discussion about the resolution and SB451 came after West Virginia School Service Personnel Association Vice President Jerry Ames and Ohio County Education Association President Jenny Craig each addressed the board asking them to support the resolution, which has been approved by most of West Virginia’s 55 counties. Also speaking was Owens Brown, president of the W.Va. NAACP.

Union members present said that it appeared to the rest of the state that officials with Ohio County Schools aren’t supporting their teachers and school service personnel.

“It doesn’t look good on you,” said Wheeling Park High School teacher Jackie Shriner. “Even though there are a lot of good things in that bill for teachers, we are willing to give them up to keep charter schools and (educational savings accounts) out of our county and state.”

Board President Zach Abraham said the board’s reluctance to act on the resolution Monday night was in no way meant to signify that the board members didn’t support teachers, and that Ohio County’s board members did not need to follow the lead of the rest of the state.

“We are just being very, very cautious, “ he said. “This is a form of political pressure, and we’re being very cautious about it.”

Abraham said he has been reaching out to local legislators, encouraging them to find a compromise on SB 451.

Abraham said his biggest concern is that Ohio County Schools will ask voters to renew an excess levy worth $17.5 million to the school district next year, and that the process to pass it starts in the fall.

“I’m concerned about voter fatigue,” he said. “If it were go to the point where we have a walkout, that impacts us by $17.5 million…”

Member Christine Carder said there are good things in the bill, including $24 million for student support services. She also didn’t think the board should act on the resolution.

“They haven’t taken a vote yet,” she said. “We’re waiting to see where it winds up before taking a stand.”

Superintendent Kim Miller said she spent Monday morning in Charleston at a public hearing for SB 451. She reported the current standing of the W.Va. Association of School Administrators is that they are not in favor of SB 451, and members will likely support parts of the bill.

She said she also spoke with representatives of the unions representing teachers and school service personnel, and none said they wanted a work stoppage.

Miller said the idea of a work stoppage is being used “to create a disturbance” in the educational process.

“I continue to focus on the positive things, and the great things we are doing,” she said. “We just have to keep positive and moving forward.”

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