Education union officials got their first chance Tuesday to publicly address lawmakers on a massive audit of the state school system.
Representatives from the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association and the West Virginia Education Association expressed some concerns with audit recommendations or state action concerning the document.
In January, Public Works LLC made more than 50 recommendations that it believed could save the state millions of dollars and produce more efficient, effective schools.
While Jason Sword of the AFT said his organization agrees with many of the recommendations, including streamlining professional development and increasing access to career and technical programs.
But it has concerns.
"The audit and state board report have identified seniority as a barrier to hiring the most qualified candidate, and have misled the public into thinking seniority is the sole factor in hiring decisions," Sword said, referring to the state Board of Education's response to the audit.
He said state code lists seven factors to be considered in hiring. He thinks the state should focus more on teacher compensation than on seniority and its role in hiring.
The board response included an emphasis on trying to increase teacher pay and recruit qualified teachers. Still, Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, said school administrators have told him that seniority requirements are an issue. He questioned why such a divide exists between teachers and administrators.
"(There's) this distrust, that teachers have with principals, and on the principals' side, they don't trust the teachers," Well said. "We need to solve that problem, because we're not putting students first. Period."
Sword said the audit is a starting point for educators to begin discussing change, but all parties still need to come to the table to talk about how to affect that change.
Jackee Long of the state school service personnel association said school cooks, bus drivers and other support workers should not be overlooked. She said the audit at times proposed to cut pay or positions for such employees, and she believes that would lead to more inefficiencies.
Dale Lee, WVEA president, talked about the seven forums recently held by his organization to discuss the audit. The WVEA plans to draft a report from those forums, and Lee said it could be made available to legislators at their next meeting.