CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signs his education reform package into law, West Virginia's 55 local school boards will gain a certain amount of power.
They'll have more flexibility as they plan the school calendar, flexibility meant to let officials plan around snow days so students actually spend 180 days in school every year. And school officials will have more flexibility in hiring practices.
Much has been made of those changes, of the so-called shift to local control in lieu of control coming from a central bureaucracy based in Charleston. The shift was prescribed in part by an efficiency audit of the state's education system commissioned by Tomblin and completed last year.
But at least some officials on the local level are wondering if that's enough for meaningful change.
"I think it is inaccurate to say that county boards were given a lot more control. We were given more control over our calendar and hiring practices," said Greg Prudich, president of the Mercer County Board of Education and chairman of the state School Board Association's audit response team.
That's not insubstantial. In some of the state's most mountainous regions, county school boards have been crippled by regulations preventing them from moving the school year's start and end dates to accommodate an outsized number of snow days.
Pocahontas County, for example, averages more than 100 inches of snow each year - over the past five years, the county's school system has averaged 172 days of school instruction, well below the 180 mandated by state law.
And proponents of the new hiring policy say it will allow for a more personalized approach to personnel decisions.
Local school boards are largely appreciative but not universally certain that's enough.
"We're talking about the state board and the Department of Education going through their regulations and their policies and ending the micromanagement of the classroom . . . as local board members we were all holding our breath and hoping we'd see a lot more in terms of freeing us up," Prudich said.