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Testimony- School funding inadequate

by Jennifer Bundy

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLESTON -- West Virginia high schools will not be able to offer all electives required under a new mandated curriculum unless the state provides more money, school officials from 17 counties testified Monday.

Beginning with the 2004-05 school year, public schools will be required to follow a new curriculum that, among other things, requires college-bound students to take four years of math, four of science and two of foreign language.

Currently, students must take three years of math and science. Two years of a foreign language are recommended but not required.

Superintendents testified Monday at a hearing on a 1975 lawsuit filed by a parent that challenges the state's system for funding schools. They said the new state curriculum requirements would help them provide a better education.

But, said Clay Superintendent Jerry Linkinoggor, "We will not be able to do that."

Clay County already has a tight school budget, he said.

"We have nothing extra," said Linkinoggor, who empties the trash at the county office himself because he can't afford to hire a custodian.

In Raleigh County, the school board spends every penny it can on curriculum. As a result, "We have leaky roofs and poor air quality in many buildings," said Emily Meadows, the county personnel director.

Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht, named special judge to hear the lawsuit, issued a 244-page blueprint for overhauling West Virginia's education system in 1982.

Although it contained detailed recommendations on personnel, facilities, materials and equipment, the ruling has never been fully implemented.

Last December Recht issued a ruling that, in effect, overturned his 1982 decision and adopted the Legislature's plan to increase spending where poor test scores show the need.

But Recht has said he expected the Legislature to increase funding enough to hire more teachers and school service personnel. Lawmakers' failure to do that led him to schedule this week's hearing.

State schools Superintendent David Stewart had recommended the Legislature spend an additional $43.3 million on teachers and school service personnel.

The county superintendents all said they need the money -- and more.

"It certainly would help. It's not the panacea we need," said Braxton County Superintendent Carolyn Long.

Rebecca Baitty, an attorney for the Legislature, asked Long for her definition of a quality education.

"I'm trying to make a distinction between the ideal system and a system that could be improved but nonetheless is providing a high quality education," Baitty said.

Recht stopped the questioning and said it is up to the courts to define the "thorough and efficient" education that the West Virginia constitution requires.

In 1979, the West Virginia Supreme Court defined that as "the best the state of education expertise allows."

"We are not going to retreat after 21 years to a lesser definition. That's it. It's a matter of law," Recht said.

The superintendents said the federal No Child Left Behind Act will make the problem worse because it will increase personnel needs.

Monroe County Superintendent Lyn Guy said 35 percent of Monroe County's service personnel are bus drivers because of the county's rural, mountainous geography. She said the county pays for about 12 school service positions more than the state aid formula funds, but still does not have enough secretaries or cooks.

Calhoun County Superintendent Ron Blankenship said his county barely meets the state-mandated high school curriculum and needs at least an additional 17 school service personnel.

Unlike Monroe County, Calhoun does not have an excess levy to supplement state school funding.

Baitty said the state anticipates an almost $200 million deficit next fiscal year.

The hearing will continue Tuesday morning, with state officials and out-of-state education experts expected to testify. Recht has promised to issue a decision before the legislative session begins in January.

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