CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With financial estimates starting to roll in for the big education bill being considered by the state Senate, the state Board of Education is calling an emergency meeting.
Much of that cost isn’t unanticipated, but the state Board of Education plans to meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday about “an imminent material financial loss or imminent substantial harm to a public agency, its employees or the members of the public which it serves.”
There will be a live audio stream of the meeting.
State school board President Dave Perry issued a statement taking issue with “the unprecedented, rapid pace and process this bill is following.”
“I believe it is vitally important and appropriate that the constitutional entity charged with overseeing the public education system in this state weigh in on the significant and substantial changes being proposed to West Virginia’s education system.”
An estimate by the state Department of Education calculates a cost of almost $137 million. Most of that — $134 million — includes school employee pay raises, additional raises for math teachers and a provision to fund all county school boards at a minimum of 1,400 students.
A separate fiscal note from the Public Employees Insurance Agency calculates the cost of allowing school employees to shift unused sick leave into insurance at retirement.
PEIA anticipates 7,800 policyholders will convert leave for health insurance and increase other post employment benefits by $35 million.
“This will also significantly undermine the perception of the States dedication to resolving unfunded liabilities and negatively impact the State’s credit rating and potentially increase financing costs of the State,” PEIA wrote in the estimate.
PEIA also anticipates an additional cost for premiums of $27.6 million a year.
Yet another financial estimate has been provided by the Higher Education Policy Commission.
That agency estimated the cost of modifying Underwood-Smith teacher loans to target certain academic disciplines and emphasize academic distinction.
The estimated cost for the changes is $1.1 million.
State Senator Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, addressed the possible costs during a floor speech today.
“When we continue to work on this bill that some of the things you seek in here, there’s going to be unintended consequences that will probably scare you to death,” Hardesty said.
Another senator, Mike Maroney, said the cost will be worth it to make big changes in the state school system.
“I don’t mind spending money to fix education. I think it’s money well spent,” said Maroney, R-Marshall.
Of West Virginia’s school system, he said, “It’s broken. It’s fractured. It’s decimated.”
Debate over the bill will take place Wednesday during a rare Committee of the Whole in the Senate.
The full Senate will gather as one committee to discuss the bill, to hear testimony, to offer amendments and, at some point, to decide whether to pass the 145-page bill.
Senator Craig Blair, who will be leading the big committee, said he intends to not only have the current fiscal notes on hand but also financial estimates from previous instances when similar bills have been considered.
“A lot of these bills have been around for years, so we’re getting historical fiscal notes, too,” said Blair, R-Berkeley.
“Because we all know that fiscal notes sometimes, whoever supports the idea they’ll look really good and if they don’t support the idea they can look really bad.”