Teachers union calls Monongalia County action illegal, alarming
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Monongalia County Board of Education acted illegally and unnecessarily when it created an administrative assistant position with an annual salary of $85,000, according to complaints filed by one of the state's two teachers unions.
State and local union leaders think it's a systemic problem in the county and could mirror problems with top-heavy school systems across the state.
Judy Hale, head of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, and fellow union representatives made the claims in a letter sent recently by an attorney to Monongalia Superintendent Frank Devono.
County AFT leader Sam Brunett sent Devono a letter outlining further complaints on behalf of the county's AFT leadership.
The letter from Hale alleges the board violated the Open Meetings Act when it voted to create the position. The board did not include the item on the agenda for its December meeting. Instead, an addendum to the personnel portion of the meeting was filed the day of the meeting, according to the letter. The letter states the allegation is based on "information and belief."
Public boards are expected to publish agendas three days prior to a meeting. No additions can be made unless it is an emergency, the letter states, citing an opinion of the state Ethics Commission.
This is the second time in three years that the AFT has alleged violations of open meetings laws in Monongalia County.
In 2009 the union sued the board over alleged violations, and Hale said the board eventually admitted wrongdoing, changed the action taken and promised to abide by such policies in the future.
"I don't know why they would do it again when they know it flies in the face of the law," Hale said.
The union is asking the county to eliminate the position, train board members on open meetings laws and pay any legal fees. No one has been hired yet for the position, but the union believes the high pay level and unique nature of the qualifications could mean it was created for a particular person, according to Brunett's letter.
The problem runs deeper than one instance. The county consistently hires administrators, to the detriment of students and teachers alike, Brunett and Hale argue.
"It has been consistently a problem that's been pointed out over and over," Hale said. "We've collected data that shows how top heavy they are, in terms of most of the other counties. But it just doesn't seem to register with that board."
About 23 percent of employees in Monongalia County schools are administrative, according to Brunett's letter. Five are paid more than $100,000 a year, and 26 are paid more than $80,000.
"This is awkward to every taxpayer in Monongalia County who has historically supported this education system," Brunett wrote. "How can this board justify to its employees and those taxpayers any (personnel changes) or classroom material cutbacks at the same time they wish to hire an additional county-level administrator with the starting salary of $85,000?"
Arguments from teachers' unions that county school systems employ too many administrators and not enough teachers are not new. However, Barnett and Hale believe it is particularly important now in light of the highly publicized statewide education efficiency audit.
Among many other recommendations, the audit calls for fewer administrative positions at the state Department of Education. Brunett believes a county-by-county assessment of administrative positions across the state could show similar bureaucratic bulk.
Attempts to reach Devono and two Monongalia County school board members were unsuccessful.
The state Board of Education recently issued its own response to the audit. The department is cutting back on some of its administrative positions, and there is a pledge to move more control to Regional Education Service Agencies and county boards.
Legislators are expected to rely on the audit for legislation that could be proposed in the upcoming session.