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McElwee sheds light on education issues

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    Robert N. Hart
    Robert N. Hart

My compliments to Mr. Charles McElwee on a well-written article concerning the educational system in West Virginia ("W.Va. Needs Nationwide Search for Superintendent," April 26). 

However, I would suggest that a new superintendent's biggest and maybe the largest "rocks in the road" facing his efforts would be the U.S. Department of Education, West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia government controlled by the fourth branch of government, the unions.

I personally agree with the findings of the educational system audit completed in January 2012 that stated that the West Virginia Board of Education's main objective was to obtain federal funding and was not focused on improving the quality of education. I believe the recent legislation provided by the governor and supported by our Legislature supports and encourages that goal as each school is now required to have a "plan" that ensures the obtaining of the most revenue and adds common core. 

I am a citizen of Grant County, whose schools have been taken over by the state. I retired to this area and have not had children attend schools here, but like you I am very concerned by the failures of the educational system. I recently attended a board of education meeting to acquaint myself with issues concerning public criticism of the BOE's lack of response to citizen concerns. 

Citizens wanting to address the board were required to sign in and were the first to speak after a prayer and Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. After their comments the board members simply sat there and made no response. No comment by the public was allowed during agenda discussion, et cetera.

After the meeting I approached the president of the board and the state-appointed superintendent and informed them I did not understand their lack of response to public comments. They informed me it was because they used Roberts's Rules of Order to control their meetings.

Not buying that explanation I decided to investigate further upon returning home. 

Eventually I got to the West Virginia Ethics Commission website. When I reviewed the Open Meeting Act frequently asked questions portion I received a rude awakening. Some excerpts follow:

4. Does the Open Meetings Act require that meetings be recorded by the governing body?

No. However, governing bodies should check their enabling legislation or local ordinances to determine whether recording is required pursuant to statute or rule. 

5. May items be added to the agenda during a meeting?

No. If a citizen or member of the governing body raises a matter during the course of a meeting, the item may not be discussed or voted upon at the meeting. 

Instead, it must be added to a meeting agenda for a future meeting. The only exception is if the item is an emergency. In that case, the governing body should follow the procedure set forth for emergency meetings and agenda items. 

6. Are governing bodies required to allow members of the public to speak at a meeting?

No. The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to allow citizens to observe the governing body for purposes of promoting transparency. However, governing bodies are encouraged to have a public comment period. A governing body may adopt rules which impose restrictions upon public comment periods such as the amount of time which will be allocated to each speaker. 

To get directly to the point, I believe the state government has purposely "stacked the deck" against the taxpayer in favor of the aforementioned fourth branch of government. Legislation was once again killed in committee during the last legislative session that would get rid of the requirement to be a union member to gain employment. Hail to the Emperor!

Again I wish to thank Mr. McElwee for taking the time to address this issue publicly thus giving "We the People" a voice. 

Jim Hinebaugh
Maysville, W.Va.