ROMNEY – A new policy requiring child care workers at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind to have an associate degree has upset some students who say the change is unfair to the employees.
Ten students conducted a protest against the change Monday morning outside the school in Romney. Workers affected by the change held similar protests in April.
“They watch us,” said 13-year-old Jacob Hundley of Charleston in a phone interview. “They protect us. They help us do our homework. They do a lot of things to help. They’re like our moms and dads.”
Ashley Shuck, 14, of Fort Ashby, said workers who have been at the school for years should not have to go to college to keep their jobs.
The West Virginia Board of Education approved the change in March. It will affect 35 employees who work during non-instructional hours with students who live in the school’s dorms.
Beginning July 1, 2015, the jobs will be changed to residential care specialist positions, with higher salaries. Workers who don’t have degrees must obtain them within three years but there is no guarantee that they will be hired.
“These house parents are like our parents,” 15-year-old Brooklyn Phares of Scherr said. “Do parents have to go to college? No, they don’t.’”
Some parts of the process have not yet been decided, said Elizabeth Boyer, the school’s superintendent.
Boyer said her responsibility is to ensure that everyone on the campus has the knowledge and skill to support the students at all times.
Utilities ordered to change billing habits: The state Public Service Commission has ordered Mon Power and Potomac Edison to implement monthly meter readings and billings following customer complaints.
The PSC released an order last week in an investigation into the billing, meter reading and customer service practices of the FirstEnergy subsidiaries.
Under the order, the companies must implement monthly meter readings and billings as quickly as possible, but no later than July 1, 2015.
It also requires the companies to maintain adequate staff to perform the readings and to submit monthly reports to the commission through December 2015.
Citizens’ groups said customers complained about receiving multiple and contradictory bills in the same month, among other issues.
Mon Power and Potomac Edison serve about 520,000 customers in 37 West Virginia counties.
Pollution rules announced: A federal rule would require West Virginia to cut power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions by about 20 percent by 2030.
The Environmental Protection Agency rule announced Monday is part of President Barack Obama’s plans to reduce pollution tied to global warming.
West Virginia gets 96 percent of its electricity from coal, the highest ratio nationally. West Virginia’s mark would drop emissions by 19.8 percent by 2030, compared to 2012.
The rule aims to drop emissions by 30 percent nationally by 2030, compared to 2005.
State Democrats and Republicans have long argued the administration wrongly targets the coal industry.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said the office is still determining West Virginia’s specific impact.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he would take all legal actions necessary against the rule.
Coal execs accused in $2M kickback scheme: Arch Coal employees at a West Virginia mine are charged with pocketing almost $2 million from vendors in a pay-to-play kickback scheme, federal prosecutors say.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the widespread setup required vendors to pay kickbacks to Arch Coal employees to do business with the coal company.
Four employees at Arch Coal’s Mountain Laurel mining complex in Logan County are accused of taking kickbacks from 2007 to 2012. Prosecutors said the mine’s former general manager, David E. Runyon, was at the center of the setup.
Prosecutors said some companies spent more than $400,000 to maintain lucrative contracts with Arch Coal, one of the biggest coal producers and marketers worldwide.
Ten people in all have been charged, with vendors, contractors and four Arch employees among them. The employees are no longer with the company.
Companies knew Arch Coal would sever their contracts if the side payments stopped. Likewise, Runyon knew losing the contracts would hurt the companies, according to court documents.
Arch Coal has mines in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland. Its Mountain Laurel facility employs more than 350 in underground and surface mining. Mountain Laurel produced 2.9 million tons in sales last year, according to the company’s website.
Murderer to return to court: A West Virginia teenager serving a 30-year sentence for second-degree murder is scheduled to return to court this week.
Rachel Shoaf’s incarceration status will be discussed at Thursday’s hearing in Monongalia County Circuit Court.
Shoaf, 17, has been incarcerated at a juvenile facility since she was sentenced in February. She could be transferred to Lakin Correctional Center when she turns 18.
Prosecutors say Shoaf and 18-year-old co-defendant Shelia Eddy lured 16-year-old Skylar Neese from her home and stabbed her to death in 2012. Neese’s body was left in a wooded area across the border in Pennsylvania.
Eddy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in January. She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
McDowell laying off county staff: Eight McDowell County employees have been laid off as the county struggles to plug a budget hole.
The layoffs include Delegate Clif Moore, who is an assistant county administrator.
Moore said that seven employees were laid off Friday. His layoff is effect June 13 so he can continue working with county administrator Jennifer Wimmer to balance the budget.
Moore says a recent decline in coal mining has hurt the county’s tax revenues. Wimmer says the County Commission also is trying to collect more than $2 million in unpaid taxes.
Moore says the County Commission employs about 220 people.
Cankerworm invasion: West Virginia agriculture officials are monitoring an infestation of fall cankerworms in Jefferson County, fearing the insects could spread.
West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick says fall cankerworms are voracious eaters that munch on tree leaves. While healthy trees usually can survive the defoliation, Helmick says excessive damage can kill them.
Disease and predators typically cause large cankerworm outbreaks to collapse. But Helmick says cankerworm populations in eastern Jefferson County have been growing for the last two seasons. He says there’s a possibility of a more widespread outbreak in West Virginia.
Helmick says large cankerworm infestations also have been reported in eastern Virginia.