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DeLong hears laundry list of woes

January 03, 2007|by Dave McMillion

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - New House Majority Leader Joe DeLong got an earful Tuesday afternoon about the Eastern Panhandle's problems, including a lack of certified teachers for local schools and inadequate funding for projects like sewer plants and roads.

The job of the majority leader is to oversee the day-to-day operations of committees in the House of Delegates and make sure bills get to the floor of the House for consideration.

DeLong, a Democratic delegate from Hancock County, was elected House majority leader last month.

Local officials often have felt ignored by the rest of the state, and DeLong decided to meet with about 30 officials from local cities, members of the Jefferson County Board of Education, the Jefferson County Commission and the business community at the board of education office.

After hearing a list of concerns brought out at the meeting, DeLong said he was sympathetic and would take the message of concern to Charleston, W.Va., where the Legislature will start meeting next Wednesday.

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"It will be delivered unequivocally. You'll have my support," DeLong told the group.

Local officials said a "crisis" is building in local public schools because there are not enough certified teachers to educate children. Large numbers of local teachers have been leaving their jobs for higher pay in neighboring states and lawmakers have been trying to increase the educators' salaries so they will stay.

Board of Education member Gary Kable said Jefferson County Schools is going to open a second high school soon and the district will have to hire about 125 people to run it.

"I don't know where they're going to get the teachers," said Tom Lange, a Jefferson County resident and former president of the West Virginia Education Association.

If the Eastern Panhandle is "the goose with the golden egg" as far as its strong economy, then it must have the resources it needs to accommodate growth, like new sewer plants, Jefferson County Commission President Greg Corliss said.

Corliss said people are concerned about putting their children in local schools with a shortage of teachers.

"These are basic things. You need to set up some sort of process to deal with that," Corliss said.

DeLong said he does not have all the solutions but expressed confidence the problems will eventually be resolved. A handful of local lawmakers like Dels. Bob Tabb, John Doyle and Locke Wysong, all D-Jefferson, and Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, were at the meeting. DeLong said the Eastern Panhandle has a good team to get results in the Legislature.

"These are all important things (that need) to be brought to the forefront," DeLong said.

Lange said many times, progress in the Legislature is sidetracked by organizations that represent groups like city officials.

Unger responded by saying that officials like county commissioners need to communicate with organizations that represent them to make sure they push for issues important to their local areas.

"Just leaving it on our doorstep" is not the way to get a bill passed, Unger said.

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