|Members of the WV Board of Education, last week, considered altering the map of Regional Education Service Agencies, but got held up considering the function of the RESAs.|
The Commission on School District Governance and Administration delayed altering RESAs’ roles and reportedly decided to stick with the current map of eight RESAs, each of which cover several county school systems.
“The geographic location of a RESA is less important than it was in the ’70s,” when they were created, commission chairman Thomas Campbell said.
He said the only purpose of the map was to determine who sits on the Regional Councils, the boards that lead RESAs and contain county superintendents and local school board members.
The commission also recommended the state school board establish measurements for the RESAs’ performance and stop RESAs from performing “entrepreneurial functions,” like training EMTs and volunteer firefighters that don’t relate to teaching.
Campbell said RESAs use such entrepreneurial functions to make money.
RESAs’ roles have gained new importance because the State Board, in an October 23 report, broadly recommended moving managerial functions, like business and legal services, away from the state’s 55 county school boards and to the RESAs over a five year period.
That would leave county school boards to focus on student education and giving them more flexibility in using their funding, they said.
“We readily acknowledge that county boards of education must adapt or be fitted into a future varying greatly from how boards operate currently,” the report states.
The report sought to address perceived inefficiencies in the education system of a state with relatively poor student performance, beleaguered county school districts that the state school board has sometimes resorted to taking over.
In nearly all the school systems the state took over, academic achievement did not improve.
The 50-page report was crafted after 19 meetings.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he supported using RESAs to make change.
But last week, some commission members began suggesting instead centralizing more educational services within the RESAs and leaving business services to the local school districts.
“It’s a different direction from the original report,” Campbell said.
“My personal opinion is that the truth is somewhere in the middle, that we’ll find that there are some business functions that can be dealt with, probably not just regionally but statewide,” Campbell continued.
He also noted that the Republican takeover in November has changed the players in the debate.
Republicans will lead a major effort to do away with Common Core, and be looking at reforms they believe would improve the academic outcomes of state students.
Functions that could be consolidated into RESAs include business, food, human resources and technology services, auditing, transportation, special education management, compliance reporting, grants acquisition and educational materials purchasing.
The report notes the commission did consider simply eliminating the county school boards, whose 275 total members received more than $1 million in compensation in fiscal year 2012-13, but decided against it, saying it would violate “the long-cherished principle of citizen accountability for public education.”
It does not, however, rule out consolidating some school districts themselves and suggests creating schools “that may involve two or more counties.”
Twenty-eight districts have fewer than 4,000 kids, 14 fewer than 2,000 and seven fewer than 1,400 — the enrollment needed to meet minimum fixed costs under the state funding formula.
Calhoun and several other rural counties are struggling to operate using school formula funds, particularly those without school levies.
“Current school district preservation should and must become a secondary consideration to the need for student support and performance,” the report states.
The report acknowledged that district consolidation could threaten the survival of small communities.
The report also recommends focusing the state school board “more on broader aspects of policy and vision-framing than a board focused on compliance through policy” and seeks to concentrate school reform at individual schools.
The RESAs, with their increased power, will also be under “continuous review” with required monthly financial reports to the state board of education’s finance committee.
The lack of oversight allowed the finance secretary for one RESA to embezzle more than $1.3 million.