Legislators Look at Elections for W.Va. School Board

Photo by Perry Bennett, W.Va. Legislature West Virginia Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, looks on during an interim committee meeting in Charleston in October.

WHEELING — Members of the West Virginia Board of Education would be elected by the state’s voters under a bill introduced during the first week of the West Virginia Legislature’s annual session.

There are 12 members of the state board, nine of whom are appointed by the governor. They serve nine-year terms.

The remaining three members have non-voting roles and serve through their jobs in state education — the state school superintendent, the chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission and the chancellor for the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education.

Senate Bill 20 — introduced by Sens. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, and Sue Cline, R-Wyoming — calls for the election of the nine members currently appointed by the governor to shorter, four-year terms. Three candidates would be elected from each of West Virginia’s three congressional districts, according to the legislation.

Although the races would be nonpartisan under the legislation being proposed, no more than five of the nine members could belong to the same political party.

In addition, members of any party executive committee, elected office holders and federal and state employees would be prohibited from seeking seats on the board.

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said he is hearing a lot of discussion among legislators about SB 20, and he suspects it could find traction.

“It’s pretty early in the session,” he said. “But from our conversations, there are a lot of people interested in it, and there are definitely members who strongly support it.”

Ferns said he doesn’t know yet if he would support the bill, and wants to learn more about the legislation. He said he doesn’t have much knowledge of public education, and relies on the information provided him by those who do.

“It always takes me a while to wrap my head around education matters,” he said. “I have to hear debate and arguments. I only know the concepts that are being expressed.”

Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, is a retired teacher who spent his adult life as an educator. He said he knows of no reason why the current system of appointing board members needs changed, but he is willing to listen to what supporters have to say.

“I know they’ve talked about it, but I would have to look into it a lot more,” he said. “I don’t know what the reasons are … or why we would need statewide elections. I don’t have an opinion on it yet, but I will look at it.”

Tyler County Schools Superintendent Robin Daquilante sees the move toward electing members as a positive step.

“I think they should be elected, and to shorter terms,” she said. “That would be excellent.”

Daquilante was also encouraged the members would be elected by each congressional district.

“Those who serve should have an interest in education, and be elected locally,” she said. “The board has a duty to meet the needs of all counties — both small and large. If the members were elected statewide, I’m not sure this would happen.”

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