Nigel Jeffries: How to deal with WV's overwrought education system

I must respectfully disagree with the Gazette-Mail’s stance on the business inventory tax in a recent editorial.

There is a solution that would allow the state to phase out the business inventory tax — and reduce other burdensome taxes such as the personal property tax on vehicles — without having to replace revenue. The solution is not novel, it merely requires the political will to cut state spending by eliminating the numerous unnecessary commissions, boards, agencies and programs while also reorganizing and reforming the county school district model to reduce the multi-layered bureaucracy in the state’s education system.

Talk always focuses on how potential tax cuts will affect funding for public education, but rarely does the discussion focus on why we spend so much on education in the first instance. West Virginia’s school district model is full of costly overlap. State school districts are arbitrarily divided among the 55 counties. Each school district is supervised by a five-member county board of education whose members get paid at a rate not to exceed $160 per member per meeting up to 50 meetings a year. Each county board of education appoints a superintendent for a term of not less than one nor more than four years. Currently, the average base salary for a county superintendent in West Virginia is north of $100,000 — with the highest salary being around $188,000.

Along with 55 superintendents, there are assistant superintendents, various directors of administrative programs and departments, principals and assistant principals. This structure exists regardless of whether the school district has less than 1,000 students or more than 20,000 students.

Does West Virginia need 55 separate school districts, 55 different superintendents, 275 elected county board members, and the West Virginia Board of Education to administer public schools in a state with 270,000 K-12 students? Of course not. A better approach would be to draw regional school districts using such factors as geography, enrollment statistics, property tax revenue, class sizes and student commute times. The savings will be immediate and substantial.

Next, there are several costly state commissions, boards, agencies and programs that could and should be eliminated. Unfortunately, I do not have the necessary space to list them all here so I will focus on some of the more costly examples.

First, the State of West Virginia is paying over $1 million in compensation to the 14 highest-paid employees of the Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC). The former chancellor of the HEPC alone made over $300,000. That is an absurd abuse of taxpayer dollars. The HEPC “works with institutions on accomplishing their missions and carrying out state procedures.” Each public higher education institution within the state has a board of governors whose duties include carrying out the institution’s mission while complying with state law. The HEPC is duplicative and non-essential. There is no objective evidence that the HEPC adds any value to higher education in the state — however, I am sure the 14 highest-paid employees could come up with more than a few reasons to disagree.

Next, the Human Rights Commission adjudicates employment and public accommodation discrimination. The circuit courts of the state exercise concurrent jurisdiction over these same complaints and have a longer statute of limitations. There is no reason to maintain an executive branch commission to adjudicate discrimination claims when the circuit courts of the state are the more appropriate venue.

Another example of an unnecessary commission is the state Racing Commission. The state Racing Commission oversees and regulates thoroughbred horse and greyhound racing industries within the state. The state lottery could easily fulfill the same role for less cost.

Last, West Virginia is unique in that it has a two-tiered procedure for handling DUI cases. The first is criminal. The second is administrative. Reform the current two-tiered process into a unified one-tiered process — which most states currently maintain — and eliminate the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The administrative process could easily be handed over to the elected county prosecutor for disposition. If the county prosecutor’s office handles all aspects of DUI cases, they would be disposed of fairly, firmly and in a timely fashion.

Instead, we pay twice the amount to have others carry out the job for which we already pay the elected prosecutors and their staffs for no discernible reason or benefit. Anyone who maintains that the current two-tiered system is tough on DUI defendants does not understand how the system works or how long the current administrative process takes.

Continually looking for replacement revenue without ever considering spending cuts is irresponsible. West Virginia currently taxes real property, personal property, consumer sales, personal income, corporate income, business inventory, business gross receipts, property transfers, vehicle registration renewals, and the list goes on. Nevertheless, West Virginia perpetually struggles to balance its budget. At some point, the state Legislature will exhaust its current sources of revenue and will be compelled to look for new ways to tax the same money a second, third, and fourth time to pay for the massive government it has created and sustained with taxpayer dollars.

Nigel E. Jeffries is an attorney

in Charleston, by way of Elkins.

Funerals for Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dotson, Jeffery - 7 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Kees, Nancy - 11 a.m., Salem Road Freewill Baptist Church, Oak Hill.

Payne, Arless - 5 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Taylor, Connie - 11 a.m., Memory Gardens, Low Gap.

Taylor, Joseph - 11 a.m., Gauley Bridge Baptist Church.

Williams, Nellie - 1 p.m., Pineview Cemetery, Orgas.

Yates, Ruth - 11:30 a.m., Sunset Memorial Park Mausoleum, South Charleston.