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Wise touts session highlights

March 14, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

Gov. Bob Wise stood behind a podium decorated by a "Let's pull together" poster at South Middle School Wednesday as he praised the success of the 2002 West Virginia legislative session.

While nearly 90 percent of the legislation proposed by Wise passed through the House and Senate this session, the governor focused his talk on education and jobs to the group of about 20.

"In terms of education, this was a phenomenal year," Wise said.

In the last 10 minutes of the session, the rules regarding the PROMISE scholarship program were approved, allowing the program to move forward.

Wise said the program allows about 3,900 students across West Virginia, including 240 in the Eastern Panhandle, to receive money toward tuition and fees. The scholarship applies only to students who will attend in-state universities or colleges.

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About 5,300 students applied for the PROMISE scholarship.

"I am ecstatic about the results," he said.

Les Smith, a guidance counselor at Martinsburg High School, said there is a tremendous problem with the program because of weighted and non-weighted grading systems.

For example, Berkeley County schools are under a non-weighted system, which caps a grade-point average at 4.0, while Jefferson County schools are in a weighted system, which allows grade-point averages to go over 4.0.

Smith said a student at Martinsburg High School with a 2.97 grade-point average would have a 3.3 grade-point average if attending Jefferson High School in Jefferson County.

To qualify for a PROMISE scholarship, a student must have a 3.0 grade-point average and obtain a 21 on the ACT standardized test.

Wise said he was aware of the problem and was pushing the West Virginia Board of Education to address the issue.

"This is a shakedown year because it is our first," Wise said.

Smith said the program is wonderful, but there are things that need to be worked out.

Also passed this session was the "single largest pay raise in at least a decade" for West Virginia teachers, Wise said.

Of the 16 states in the Southern Regional Education Board, West Virginia's raise is the second highest at 4.2 percent. West Virginia also ranks second among the 16 in actual dollar increase, he said.

Other aspects of the education package included a guaranteed full 180-day instructional year, a sales-tax holiday that eliminates sales tax for a three-day period in August on all back-to-school purchases except items that cost $100 or more, and the promotion of early childhood programs.

Also on the agenda was economic development.

"This was one of the most sweeping legislative sessions in a long time," Wise said.

Businesses that create 20 jobs, small businesses just starting out, and companies investing in their businesses will receive a tax break through the tax incentive package, he said.

Butch Pennington, owner of Pennington's Auto Center in Martinsburg, wanted to know about the possibility of a NASCAR track coming to the area. State Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, created a stir in Charleston, W.Va., earlier this month when he told legislators that several wealthy investors were eyeing the Eastern Panhandle as a site for a NASCAR racetrack.

"There's a lot of buzz going on in the automotive world (about the track), and I wanted to get the information from the horse's mouth," Pennington said.

Wise said a NASCAR track is the ultimate goal of the West Virginia Motorsports Council, but for now the council is taking inventory of everything in the state regarding racing.

He said the council is looking at tracks to host smaller levels of racing.

The hope is that "over time this will lead to an interest in a racetrack," Wise said.

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