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Rules needed for teacher hiring practices

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With the hiring season for the next school year well underway, county education officials soon will have to adapt their procedures to comply with new rules.

Those rules won't be in place for weeks, and personnel involved in hiring will have to be trained in their use.     

Changes to the criteria and process for hiring teachers played a major role in negotiations surrounding Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's massive education reform measure. The legislation was passed during this year's regular session.  

Heralded as the governor's top priority for the session, the new legislation calls for the state Department of Education to come up with new hiring rules in keeping with the code changes.

Tomblin and proponents of the bill argued that current hiring practices have given too much emphasis to seniority.

The sections of code that are being replaced laid out several criteria to be used in the hiring process, but critics said most of those factors boiled down to seniority.

Teacher unions disagreed.

The compromise legislation includes 11 factors that must be considered in the hiring process. Seniority is one of those factors, but a candidate's academic achievement, past performance evaluations and national certification are also on the list.

County school boards currently approve or reject hiring recommendations made by the superintendent, and that isn't changed in the new law.

But those local boards now will have to consider recommendations from the principal and faculty senate of the school where the teacher will be hired.

The principal and faculty senate don't have to make a recommendation, but if they do, the county board must give the recommendation twice the weight of the other factors.

The department scheduled meetings Tuesday evening with the leaders of the state's top teacher unions and other education groups to discuss new hiring rules.

Before their meeting, union officials complained that it was coming a little late in the game.

"The only concerns have been that teachers are getting out of schools right now, the law goes into effect July 1, and the state board isn't going to approve the rules until June," said Christine Campbell, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The new legislation officially takes effect June 20, which will be 90 days after the Legislature approved the measure. It says the new hiring procedures can't be used until July 1.

Liza Cordiero, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the state Board of Education in its June meeting plans to come up with policy on the role faculty senates will play in hiring.

That will be only days before the counties are expected to use the new law, said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

"It has to be out to do the hiring after July 1, and there will be a tremendous scramble to get people trained," Lee said.

Although schools hire throughout the year, a great deal of the hiring takes place during the summer, said Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln.

Stowers is vice chairman of the House Education Committee and an assistant principal at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston.

His school won't need many new hires this year, but he likes to post positions and try to fill spots as soon as they become available.

That could mean hiring under two different sets of criteria this summer.

"Until we have those policies made by the state board, we really don't know how the role of the faculty senate is going to be played out," Stowers said.

"Any time when you have drastic change in education policy, there's always some growing pains; there's always a steep learning curve," he continued.

He hopes the state education department does a good job of spreading the word on the eventual rules.

Union chiefs Lee and Campbell both said they've tried to communicate with the department about the rules for months. Tuesday's meeting was the first time either was directly involved in the rule-making process, they said.

Campbell said State School Superintendent Jim Phares, Board President Wade Linger, board member Lloyd Jackson, department attorney Heather Deskins, and board director of operations Donna Peduto attended the meeting.

She said they went through a department draft of the rules, and she called them a step in the right direction. There will be changes once everyone has a chance to provide input.

"It looks like they're trying to give teachers a voice and make it possible for everybody to do that, be involved," Campbell said.

Campbell said questions remain about who will be on the interview committees of the faculty senates and how they will be trained.

Schools may be given options for forming their committees, and training could be in the form of webinars or online programs, Campbell said.

Some counties already have begun to form interview committees, Campbell said. She brought those examples to the department as part of her suggestions for the rule-making process.

Putnam Superintendent Chuck Hatfield said his county already was using faculty senate input in hiring. While his county already has hired some teachers for next year using current standards, Hatfield doesn't think the transition will be too difficult.

"Our plan right now is we're using the current hiring procedures that were already in place and then as changes come, we'll adapt to that," Hatfield said.

Hatfield is a member of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators. He said he was scheduled to meet with the department at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Campbell said she expects to meet with the department and members of other education groups again before the June 12 state board meeting.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher @dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

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