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Board to discuss response to education audit

The state Board of Education plans to unveil its much-anticipated response to an audit of West Virginia's public education system today.

Released in January by nonprofit Public Works, the 154-page report outlines ways the state Department of Education can operate more efficiently and effectively.

The report outlines more than 50 recommendations at the state level that could cut more than $18 million the first year and more than $115 million over the next five years. It also proposes changes for county school systems and Regional Education Service Agencies (RESA) that could cut about $64 million annually. 

Combined, the report states these changes would save the education system $90 million annually.

The board discussed its response to the audit in March at Stonewall Resort. After the meeting, the board asked the department to prepare a draft of a response. However, board President Wade Linger rejected the document because he thought it was "flavored" with the department's opinion and not necessarily the board's opinion.

Although Linger initially hoped to have the response ready by June, he said a lack of staff made it difficult for the board to compile such a large document. He lobbied for a board liaison to be hired to help write the response.

On Aug. 13 the department hired Donna Petudo, a former administrator from the department, at a cost of $350 a day.

In late May, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office announced it would hold a series of eight forums for the public to discuss the audit. Vision Shared received roughly $44,000 to coordinate the forums and write a report.

It released that report last week. The 20-page document reports who attended the forums, how the forums were conducted and what people deemed most important from the audit.

It says attendees supported increased collaboration on all levels of education and the business community, improved technology and distance learning and investment in teacher training. Attendees couldn't agree on more contentious issues, like mandating 180 days of instruction, teacher compensation or teacher evaluations.

"Based on facilitator observations a continuing dialogue among professional educators, parents, the business community, workforce development, and other stakeholders would be useful in building the necessary consensus for improving public education," the report states.

The audit breaks down its state-level recommendations into six categories: administration, facilities, human resources, transportation, ancillary services and regional coordination. Implementing more efficiencies for school construction projects is the single largest money-saver for the state - combining the state Office of Facilities with the School Building Authority and code changes would save the state more than $31 million over five years.

Using cooperative purchasing practices - including changing code so that the department is exempt from competitive bid requirements when it uses "board-approved consortiums" - could save the state $25.5 million

over five years, the report states.

Cutting positions in the department and reducing duplication of duties would save the state $21.2 million over five years, according to the report.

The report also calls for a mandated 180 days of instruction, new plans to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers and making student performance the largest factor in teacher evaluations.

Teachers unions oppose both the 180-day mandate and increased emphasis on student performance in evaluations.

In a statement released Sunday, Linger said he anticipated "healthy discussion" during today's meeting. He said the board's response would focus on four key areas: increasing student achievement; revitalizing the connection with local school systems; committing to reforms from the audit the board deems necessary; and working to improve communication between the board, the department, the governor's office, the Legislature and teacher organizations.

Linger and other members of the board repeatedly have said they agreed with some aspects of the audit and disagreed with others. Details have been sparse as to which recommendations might be more favorable.

The audit and its recommended reforms have been mentioned in connection to the board's recent decision to fire state Superintendent Jorea Marple. Linger said the decision was made because it was time for a change before moving forward with reforms.

Although last week the board decided it also would discuss hiring Marple's replacement during today's meeting, on Monday it removed that item from the agenda so it could focus on the audit, Linger said in a statement.

The meeting is set for 1 p.m. in Capitol Building 6, Room 353.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at ;;;;; 



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