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Board of Education creates new role

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.

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers, disagrees.

"It kind of makes laughable their statements that they're going to downsize the state department of education where there is all this heavy bureaucracy," she said. "You can't downsize by upsizing."

Peduto, a former Department of Education administrator, was assigned in August 2012 to help board President Wade Linger draft a response to a statewide audit of West Virginia's school system. She was officially hired by the department, but essentially served as Linger's assistant, taking his notes on the audit and using them to craft a report.

She worked on a contractual basis, and was paid $350 a day for that work. Records from the state auditor's office show that she earned $30,199 in 2012 -- working part-time from mid-August through the end of the year.

The last version of the response to the education audit was submitted in December but Peduto has remained in that position.

When the board submitted its budget proposal for 2014 to the state legislature in January, it included more than $350,000 to fund three new staff positions for the board: the director of operations job Peduto was hired for yesterday, as well as a "liaison" and a board attorney.

"I'm a little perplexed at why anyone would question the need for the state board of education to have staff," Linger said. "With the kind of responsibility the state board has under the constitution I think it's strange that the board has never had staff before."

The director of operations positions was posted in the state jobs database on Feb. 25, according to department spokesperson Liza Cordeiro. It closed at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Seven people applied for the job, and the board narrowed the field to three before its regular meeting Wednesday. Board members interviewed those three candidates in a closed session for around an hour Wednesday morning, emerging to take a vote to hire Peduto.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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