By Phil Kabler


Gov. Bob Wise on Tuesday used the swearing-in ceremony for two new state Board of Education members to declare the era of school consolidation at an end in West Virginia.

"West Virginia is at a time where most of the necessary consolidation of schools has taken place," Wise said.

The governor said his administration will encourage the state school board — including new members Lowell Johnson and Burma Hatfield — the state Department of Education, and the School Building Authority to emphasize smaller, community based schools in the future.

He called on those agencies to weigh the economic and social benefits of community based schools in making future school-building decisions.

"I'm not going to be challenging decisions that have been made, but I'm saying, this is a new day in West Virginia," he said.

Wise said West Virginia is joining other Southern states to apply for a Gates Foundation grant to promote high-performing small, rural high schools in the South. He believes modern computer and interactive video distance-learning technologies make it possible to provide broader opportunities to schools with smaller enrollments.

After Tuesday's ceremony, Wise said he doesn't believe legislation will be needed this session to mandate community-based schools, but said he is considering a bill to limit the time students may travel on school buses each day.

Also Tuesday, Wise called on the state school board and Department of Education to work together to press for additional federal funding for the No Child Left Behind initiative.

Wise said West Virginia supports the higher standards of accountability and student achievement in the federal law, but there is a $70 million gap between what it will cost the state to implement the program and what the federal government is funding.

If the federal government is going to impose these significant mandates and challenges on us, they need to back them up," Wise said.

Also Tuesday, Wise said he will submit a 2004-05 state budget next week that will erase a projected $120 million funding gap through a combination of spending cuts and a limited number of "revenue increases."

Wise said his plan does not contemplate increases in consumer sales, personal income, or business and occupation taxes.

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