CHARLESTON, W.Va. - How many employees are too many employees? How many are enough?
That question has plagued education officials this year, as they work toward education reform. Wednesday, the state Board of Education created a new position in the department's top ranks, ignoring mutterings from critics who say the state's education bureaucracy is already bloated.
Donna Peduto, a former department administrator, was hired Wednesday as the board's new "Director of Operations," with a $104,000 annual salary. That position didn't exist before Wednesday.
Teachers' unions picketed the board meeting as the decision was made. As school board members voted, a handful of picketers sat in the room, hands raised, holding signs challenging the board's decision. One read "More with less. You try it!"
Last year, a statewide audit of West Virginia's school system found that the state Department of Education is bloated, with a top-heavy structure. The report identified a trend within the department to "modestly reduce overall departmental staffing levels through attrition," as a gesture toward cost saving.
But, the report read, "at the very same time it has increased its number of high-level positions," resulting in a disproportionately large number of people in top positions.
Since that report, the department has been bombarded by calls for a restructuring of the department. In response, officials have mainly touted an overall declining trend in the number of positions within the department of education.
The department has trimmed more than 12 positions since 2009 -- from 320 employees in 2009 to 307 requested for 2014 -- mainly by leaving positions unfilled as people leave the department. But critics say the shift in numbers doesn't signify a meaningful change.
Traditionally, the board of education that oversees that department has never had much of a support staff -- it's just eight board members and one secretary. In the months following the audit, though, Linger repeatedly pushed for employees who report specifically to the board.
He says that the board needs its own staff now that board members are "stepping up and doing more" and maintains that there's a key difference between hiring employees for the department and for the board.