Defining ‘Local Control’

Among Gov. Jim Justice’s first concrete initiatives involving West Virginia public schools is a proposal to defund regional education service agencies.

Yet Justice says he wants more local control over public education in our state.

It brings up a question: Just what do the governor and other proponents of more local control mean?

Let’s talk first about the RESAs. Among the precious few spending cuts proposed in the governor’s budget is to stop spending about $3.7 million a year on the eight RESAs.

At least in our area, that makes no sense from a financial standpoint. RESA 6, which serves the five Northern Panhandle counties from Wetzel on up, brings in millions of dollars in outside funding. Local school systems rely on the RESA for a variety of services, some they couldn’t afford on their own.

Elsewhere, some RESAs are, in Justice’s terminology, 18-caret dog messes. But instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, state officials ought to insist on reforms within those RESAs.

Here’s the strange thing about Justice and local control of schools: RESA officials and employees don’t report to the state Department of Education. They’re overseen primarily by boards of directors consisting of officials from the school districts they serve.

State DOE folks don’t like that.

If RESAs are abandoned, the DOE will take over some of their duties. There will be less local control.

Justice has appointed new state Board of Education members who actually have experience in schools. Formerly, most board members were from outside the school community. The non-voting state superintendent of schools was the person explaining things to the board.

Now, things may be different. People who actually have had to manage classrooms, ensure the school buses ran on time, etc., will hold a majority on the board.

That may mean a more local perspective on state policies, but it’s still not local control.

Justice is absolutely right that state and federal bureaucracies are making it difficult for educators to teach our children. We can’t do anything about the feds. Talk to your member of Congress about that.

In the meantime, precisely what does the governor have in mind? And is it more carefully thought-out than his proposal to scrap RESAs?

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