CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has moved swiftly to name an acting Secretary for Education and the Arts after the resignation of Gayle Manchin two days ago.
Justice, shortly after noon today, named Clayton Burch, who has been a top official within the state Department of Education.
This all comes as Justice weighs whether to sign a bill that would dissolve the Department of Education and the Arts and move its programs to other state agencies, including the Department of Education.
It’s all become complicated and inter-twined, but Justice’s announcement was only two sentences:
“Gov. Jim Justice has appointed W. Clayton Burch as Acting Secretary for the Department of Education and the Arts.
“Burch has been serving as Associate State Superintendent of Schools. His appointment is effective today, Wednesday, March 14, 2018.”
Before that, he served as the head of the Division of Teaching and Learning.
Burch was at a state Board of Education meeting this afternoon and took a moment to discuss his new role. He said the first priority is calming the waters at Education and the Arts.
“Number one priority is, I’m also the deputy state superintendent of schools, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head is calming waters and assuring everybody that each and every agency is our most valuable — and top priority is making sure that each of them are given a thorough and efficient evaluation.”
The job opened up suddenly this week when Gayle Manchin, West Virginia’s secretary for the arts and the wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, offered her resignation if it would remove political pressure and help save her department.
Later that evening, Justice took her up on it.
The topic is hot right now because the Legislature on Saturday passed a bill that would do away with the Department of Education and the Arts, moving its offices and programs to other state agencies.
The bill would eliminate the secretary’s position, which pays $95,000 a year.
The restructuring has been a long-held goal of lawmakers who consider the department redundant to the separate West Virginia Department of Education.
A fiscal note from the Department of Education — which is a separate agency from Education and the Arts — estimates savings of $750,000 through the elimination of some staff positions.
A separate fiscal note from the Department of Education and the Arts estimates no savings and suggests the move could actually be inefficient.
The Department of Education and the Arts dates back to the Caperton administration. Then-Gov. Gaston Caperton, in 1989, proposed a constitutional amendment that would have placed responsibility for public education with the department, rather than with the state Board of Education.
The amendment was defeated, but the department lived.
Justice, early this week, said he is still deciding what to do.
“I absolutely want to keep it if there’s real value to keeping it,” he said.
The main factor, the governor said, is whether the move would truly save money.
He also wondered aloud whether there could be unanticipated consequences. One factor in that is whether the programs housed in Education and the Arts could be transferred by the time the bill’s July 1 effective dates go into effect.
Another is how the changes might affect federal funding.
Justice commented, “If at the end of the day if all we’re doing is just slapping at somebody and all we save is just $19 or those 19 chickens and three hamburgers then it’s absolutely silly to be doing it.”