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Merge school districts? Handle federal law first

October 31, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Just as West Virginia begins to grapple with the tasks it will face under the new federal "No Child Left Behind" law, state officials say they'd like to make major changes in how the school system runs. Our gut feeling is that the state will have plenty of work adjusting to the new federal law and shouldn't try to rework the state system at the same time.

There are two competing plans for reorganization. The School Building Authority would consolidate the state's 55 districts and cut the number of school boards in half.

The West Virginia School Boards Association would consolidate administrative functions, but keep the 55 boards.

The School Building Authority's plan is four years old, but has never been brought to the legislature. Clacy Williams, executive director of the SBA, told the Associated Press that the plan would use student population clusters to redraw the districts, which would be governed by regional boards.

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The school board association feels that keeping the existing boards, with their 275 elected positions, is vital to maintaining good communication with citizens. The same group also says local boards could be more effective if they had more authority to respond to test results with different approaches.

But the best insight came from David Stewart, the state superintendent of schools. Before reorganizing the system, Stewart said, educators must figure out what the key to student achievement is - the teachers, the parents or the school board.

We recommend the schools search for that key as they adapt to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires each state to set standards for what students should know in the core subjects of reading math and science. Then tests must be developed, administered and the results sorted by students' race, income, disability and proficiency in English.

Sound complicated? It does to us. Trying to do that job and reorganizing districts at the same time sounds like a recipe for disaster.

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