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WV governor signs education bill

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that he's signed the omnibus education bill (House Bill 206), opening the state to its first charter schools alongside granting pay raises to public school workers, generally increasing public school funding, and more.

Justice announced his action on the controversial bill in a news release just after 5 p.m. Friday. He didn't have a news conference or ceremonial bill signing.

"Looking at the bill in its entirety — with all of its many, many great pieces that help our children and our teachers — there is truly so much good that will benefit teachers, students and all West Virginians," Justice said in the release. "I am really pleased with where we got to at the end of the day, and I commend the Senate and the House for working with me to come to a compromise that will result in a big win for the entire education community and all West Virginians."

His release said the bill was "designed for the betterment of children, teachers and the entire education community."

The law will allow students to attend public schools in counties they don't live in, if the receiving county's board of education approves. The school board of the county losing the student will no longer have the ability to block the transfer.

It will also raise public school workers' pay and increase school funding more generally. The raises are $2,120 for each teacher, for example.

Additionally, county school boards will be freed to pay teachers in "critically needed" or hard-to-fill subjects and geographic areas more than other teachers.

The law also removes a statewide pay-equalizing provision that keeps some counties' pay from greatly exceeding the pay in other counties. Previously, counties could only differ to a limited extent.

Teachers who primarily work as certified math teachers will be considered to have three extra years of experience on the state minimum salary schedule, which generally provides annual automatic pay bumps based on years of service.

The same will go for fulltime, certified special education teachers.

Each classroom teacher and librarian will get $300 each school year for school supplies, materials or equipment, up from the current $100.

The law requires the governor to work to expand the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, a military-like school affiliated with the West Virginia Army National Guard, to a second, unspecified location in Fayette County.

Its existing location is at the National Guard's Camp Dawson, in Preston County, and officials have said the second site under consideration is the former West Virginia University Institute of Technology campus, in Montgomery.

Justice previously criticized charter schools and bundling the school worker raises he promised a month before the November election into an omnibus bill, like the state House of Delegates and Senate each did.

In late January, Justice said he planned to veto the Senate's first version of the omnibus bill (Senate Bill 451).

That version included provisions — such as private school vouchers, denying pay for strikers and requiring school employees to annually recommit to pay union dues, once they've opted into the union — that lawmakers removed after the House killed the omnibus during the regular legislative session.

SB 451 died on the first day of this year's two-day public school workers strike.

Justice then called the special legislative session on education, which the House and Senate used to pass the new omnibus bill.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, still has the power to call for the Senate to reconvene the special session and pass more education bills. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, has the same power on the House side.

Senate Communications Director Jacque Bland said Friday evening that Carmichael "said he does not intend to close the session and we will evaluate any action that may be taken on any of the pending bills that remain."

Bland said Carmichael didn't specify which pending bills he was referencing.

The House passed several other education bills during the special session that are sitting on the Senate side. Voucher-type bills that would provide parents money to send their kids to private schools, including religious schools, are still sitting on the House side.

Carmichael led the push for the original omnibus bill.

During the regular session, the Republican-controlled House significantly amended that bill and sent it back to the also-Republican-controlled Senate.

The Senate returned some controversial provisions to the bill, including vouchers, and passed it back to the House, triggering West Virginia's second statewide public school workers strike in as many years.

After the House killed the bill in February and the regular session ended in March, Carmichael used the special session to resurrect a version of the omnibus.

Last week, the House again passed a significantly different version of the omnibus. Seven Republicans joined all the Democrats in voting against it, save for Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, who was absent.

On Monday, most of the Senate Republicans joined together to pass the House version, without amending it. Republican Sens. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, joined all the Democrats in voting no.

"I thank Gov. Justice for choosing the students of West Virginia today by signing House Bill 206," Carmichael said in a news release shortly after Justice's Friday announcement.

"The Senate has been a strong advocate for comprehensive education reform from the beginning, and this bill is a positive first step," Carmichael said in the release. "I believe that West Virginia's children, teachers and families are as gifted and talented as any in the world. These changes will help provide the world-class education our students deserve, and it will give our teachers and counties the local control they want and need."

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association union, said he's disappointed.

"Disappointed in that the voices of West Virginians and educators weren't listened to, that everyone chose to listen to outside interests," Lee said. "We also pointed out that we believe that there were some technical flaws in the bill and possibly some constitutionality questions and urged him to veto it based on that."

He said he took a letter to the Governor's Office on Thursday urging a veto, but received no response.

Fred Albert, president of the state arm of the American Federation of Teachers union, noted Justice signed the bill "without any fanfare."

"No one seems to know who was with him when he signed it," Albert said.

"It has good things in it," Albert said of the bill. "But the sticking point is — it has been said over and over again — the way that charter schools throughout this country defunded public education. Why are we going down that road?

"We want what's good for our students," he said. "We want more funding for public education ... But not in this manner, not wrapped all in one package."

"Looking at the bill in its entirety — with all of its many, many great pieces that help our children and our teachers — there is truly so much good that will benefit teachers, students and all West Virginians."

Gov. Jim Justice


Soccer tournament helps pack local restaurants with patrons

HUNTINGTON — The entire dining room of the Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 9th Street erupted in excited cheers and applause Friday afternoon as Megan Rapinoe scored a second goal as the U.S. women's soccer team took on France during the Women's World Cup.

The restaurant, similarly to many like it between Huntington and Charleston, was packed more than usual for a Friday afternoon, and most of the patrons were teams from the US Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships taking up large tables.

Showing the World Cup matches Friday is just one way businesses and restaurants are attempting to draw these youth soccer crews into their establishments.

The US Youth Soccer Eastern Regional Championships, which could be the largest sports event in West Virginia history, according to Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, draws 260 youth soccer teams from 15 state associations (an estimated 18,000 people total) to the Charleston and Huntington metro areas for seven days.

One such team, the Alleycat Academy Red from Albany, New York, is a 13U team that consists of 15 girls with a handful of parents in tow.

The team was celebrating their 3-1 win against the Delaware FC 06 girls team as they refueled and watched the U.S. defeat France, and specifically sought out a place to eat that was showing the match when they ended up at Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe.

Marisa Milum, general manager at Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe, said she and her staff have been preparing for such a crowd using their experience in dealing with youth sports tournaments from the past few years.

She said the preparation begins a couple weeks in advance for staffing and stocking, and many staff members ask to work during the tournaments because they enjoy serving the crowds.

"These people travel all summer long, so they know what to expect," Milum said. "They know there's a long wait, they're aware they're with large groups and they're kind."

Milum said the key to serving these large groups is not only to be accommodating by rearranging tables, offering private rooms with catering menus, focusing on speedy and efficient service and showing the World Cup games to draw in the crowds, but also to make the experience memorable so the teams will come back to the business during future tournaments.

And as the teams come back for tournaments in the years to come, they can see the region's growth as it happens from summer to summer.

"I think it's nice that we can showcase our development from the last time they were here, too, so they can see that we're growing and we're thriving," Milum said. "And they can check out all of our eateries and local shops and really get a taste of Huntington."

Reporter Fred Pace contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.

MU board says aviation school can take flight

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University is aiming for the sky in its attempt to attract new students with a new degree program.

The Marshall University Board of Governors on Friday approved an "intent to plan" two new baccalaureate degrees in aviation sciences that will produce commercial pilots for airplanes and helicopters. The programs will be under a new School of Aviation, which will report to the associate vice president for outreach.

Marshall is partnering with Southern Utah University and Yeager Airport to create the aviation school. Since Southern Utah's flight school is already accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration, the partnership means students can graduate sooner. SUU is also assuming financial responsibility for the helicopter, or rotor-wing, program.

"There is a huge demand for pilots across the United States," Marshall President Jerome Gilbert said. "As an industry, a commercial pilot is the only profession with a federally mandated retirement age. Marshall is poised to meet the educational requirements with these new programs."

The courses will be taught at Marshall's South Charleston campus, where the university plans to build a new residential hall, and at Yeager Airport, where a hangar will be built to house Marshall's fleet, along with a flight simulator and other classrooms.

The university plans to purchase SR22 Cirrus Aircraft, a preferred model for flight schools for its avionics, safety features and resale value. It is the only manufacturer to include a parachute that the pilot can deploy in an emergency, preventing crash landings.

The university will purchase two $500,000 planes to start, with plans to purchase up to seven planes by 2023. The School of Aviation must repay the university for the aircraft, as well as other capital costs, through tuition revenue.

The school's first-year income is anticipated to be $771,000 but $4.8 million by the fifth year with a positive cumulative balance by the seventh year.

The university is currently working toward a fall 2021 start date for the first class.

The board also approved three other intents to plan: Master of Science in data analytics, Bachelor of Science in civil engineering and combined Bachelor of Business Administration.

The master's in data analytics will provide students with technical expertise in computational modeling, data collection and integration, data storage and retrieval, data processing, modeling and analytics, and visualization.

The new business administration degree will combine six separate degree programs (management, finance, international business, economics, information systems and marketing) into a single degree program with nine majors.

The proposal for that program says the benefits will be a clearer set of requirements for students, more efficient managing of curriculum issues, better assessment of the business core, better assurance of learning and more efficient administration of the programs. The bachelor in civil engineering will replace the emphasis in civil engineering, which College of Information Technology and Engineering Dean Wael Zatar said confused students and out-of-area employers.

In other business, the board also continued its review of the board policies, approving 24 policies.

Many of those were technical changes, but the university did update its vaccination policy to remove the religious exemption to be more in line with state law. The policy does exempt online-only students not living on campus from the measles and rubella vaccination requirement.

The athletic department also updated its policy to add "sexual orientation" to its anti-discrimination policy.

Following an executive session, the board approved the acquisition of two real estate parcels for a combined cost of $10,000. More information on the purchase will be available once the transaction is completed.

Gilbert and the board also recognized outgoing members Phyllis Arnold, Cam Brammer, Hunter Barclay, David Haden and Wyatt Scaggs for their service.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Study: Retirees lose by taking Social Security benefits at wrong time

A new study finds that only 4% of retirees start claiming their Social Security benefits at the most financially optimal time. And current retirees collectively will lose $3.4 trillion in potential income to fund their retirement because they started drawing benefits at a less than ideal time.