CHARLESTON, W.Va.¬†—¬†Higher education leaders from across the state will be at the state capitol Wednesday for their annual Higher Education Day. The visit comes just a day after lawmakers gave final approval to a bill giving the state’s four-year colleges and universities more flexibility with personnel decisions.

The bill (HB 2542) was approved by the state Senate on a 27-7 vote Tuesday and sent to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature. The Senate did not change the bill that was originally approved by the House earlier in the 60-day session.

West Virginia University is the driver behind the legislation. It will give WVU, Marshall, the School of Osteopathic Medicine and others the ability to eliminate protections staff members enjoy like bumping and recall procedures. The schools say they need the flexibility because of tough economic times that have included millions of dollars in less funding from the state. Classified staff members fear layoffs.

WVU’s budget has been cut by $96 million over the last five years including $29 million in base funding and it’s possible more cuts are coming as indicated by Republican legislative leaders earlier this week when they outlined their budget framework.

WVU’s Board of Governors held an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss what it called new state budget proposals that “could impact the university’s ability to serve the State of West Virginia. Importantly, due to the ongoing legislative session, West Virginia University has a limited time period to consider such matters,” the meeting notice said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Kenny Mann (R-Monroe) answered several questions from Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) before Tuesday’s vote on the personnel flexibility bill. Mann said it was a tough vote to take.

“In one of my (campaign) commercials I remember saying, ‘I’ll go to Charleston and make the tough decisions,’ and I’m anteing up today on some of this stuff,” Mann said. “I know it’s tough. We all in this room, I’m pretty sure, we know some classified staff that work at the colleges.”

Mann said he believes because the way the bill is written classified staff members “will see the sun will come up tomorrow.”

“It won’t be as bad as it looks,” Mann said.

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