CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Senate Education Committee spent hours on Tuesday listening to union criticism of the voluminous education bill and Tomblin administration rebuttal.
Judy Hale, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, was the first to address the Senate Education Committee, which is considering the 179-page Senate Bill 359.
She said her union supports some provisions of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill, including expansion of pre-kindergarten programs; state payment of national certification costs for teachers; and teacher loan forgiveness programs.
However, most of the bill "takes a nose dive" from there, Hale said.
In her prepared statement, Hale specifically called out both State Superintendent Jim Phares and state Board of Education President Wade Linger.
She said Phares has flip-flopped on seniority in hiring.
"What I fear is that Dr. Phares may have changed his position on this issue ... so that we would all get down in the weeds and fight over hiring," Hale said.
"That way, nobody will have time to focus on the primary finding of the Education Efficiency Audit -- the bloated bureaucracy and top-heaviness in his department."
Phares, who did not attend the afternoon meeting because he was addressing a House of Delegates committee about his department's budget, said later that her statement was incorrect.
Hale said Phares favored seniority when he addressed a legislative body in October but switched his position in speaking before the Senate Education Committee last week.
Phares said he always has said seniority "is not a dirty word" but it should not be the determining factor in hiring.
"We're not jumping down into the weeds. Now, maybe there are some forces that are trying to pull us there, but that's not what we're doing," Phares said.
"We're keeping our eye on the focus, and that's what we're going to do."
That focus is student achievement, Phares said.
The AFT, the governor's office and other interested parties all say student achievement is the driving factor behind their positions.
Phares also disagreed with Hale's statement about bureaucratic bloat.