ROANOKE, W.Va. - West Virginians will have to pass drug tests, including for marijuana, in order to be eligible for a new program for free tuition at the state's public community colleges.

Alongside hearing about that policy Thursday, the state Community and Technical College System's board approved, in voice votes with no nays heard, new contracts or just pay raises for six community college presidents.

Among these votes, the board approved a three-year extension of BridgeValley Community and Technical College President Eunice Bellinger's contract, at a $154,200 annual salary.

The law (Senate Bill 1) that created the West Virginia Invests free tuition program requires students to pay for and pass drug tests before each semester in which they want free tuition.

The legislation didn't specify what types of drugs must be tested.

Kathy Butler, a consultant helping launch the program, presented a drug testing policy to the board Thursday that says the testing will include THC, marijuana's high-inducing ingredient, alongside opiates, oxycodone, hydrocodone, cocaine, amphetamines and other drugs.

The policy didn't go through a public comment period, and the board didn't vote on approving or denying it.

"It takes a while to change a policy," Butler said of not going that route. "This makes it more pliable and workable for us."

She said the policy may later be officially approved by the board, complete with a public comment period and lawmaker sign-off, but she said not doing that now allows the program to start in the upcoming fall semester.

"It's probably going to be revised within a year," Butler said of the policy.

Christina Cameron, the board's vice chairwoman, said she didn't know why the system chose to test for marijuana. No board member questioned that decision or suggested changing it during Thursday's meeting.

Board members Bob Brown, Kathy D'Antoni, Mike Graney and Chuck Parker were absent.

"We tried to model after WorkForce West Virginia," Butler said, referencing a state job placement and training organization. "We need to make sure that we're consistent because a lot of times we serve the same clientele, the same students and the same population."

The policy does allow exemptions for legally prescribed medicines, which could include medical marijuana, if the student presents documentation to the drug test provider.

Students will be required to pass the drug test within 60 days of the start of a semester to receive free tuition for that semester.

Butler said the community college system is nearly finished with contract negotiations that should allow students to get tested for $34.

Only tests done at the program's authorized facilities will count, the policy says. You'll be able to look up approved provider locations on the same website where you can apply for the free tuition:

Butler said she expects students will be able to start taking the drug tests in early July.

As for the presidential raises and contracts, the board approved changes for the following community college presidents, according to the system. These annual salary figures don't include other benefits, like vehicle allowances:

n Blue Ridge President Peter Checkovich: $8,300 raise, bringing salary to $174,200, plus a one-year contract extension from his current contract's June 2023 expiration.

n BridgeValley President Eunice Bellinger: $2,000 raise, bringing salary to $154,200, plus a three-year contract extension from her current contract's expiration this month. This contract will pay her $5,000 extra for each full year that she stays at BridgeValley during these three years.

n Eastern President Chuck Terrell: $6,600 raise, bringing salary to $153,800, plus a contract extension through June 2020.

n Mountwest President Keith Cotroneo: $7,500 raise, bringing salary to $157,400.

n New River President Bonny Copenhaver: $1,800 raise, bringing salary to $159,800.

n Northern interim President Michael Koon: $5,000 raise, bringing salary to $135,000.


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