School board goes back to drawing board on teacher hiring policy
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Major changes in the way school employees are hired in West Virginia will take effect July 1, only two weeks after the policy outlining those changes was presented to the public and the state Board of Education.
The state school board approved the new policy -- a product of the massive education reform package approved by the Legislature this spring -- in its regular meeting Thursday.
The approval came after a last-minute rush to iron out details to address concerns of various constituent groups.
The policy was still in the works until Wednesday evening, with the board scheduled to meet to vote on it the next day.
After looking at the first draft of the new policy, the state's two major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association, stood in stark opposition to several of its key points.
Among their concerns were provisions that they believe would limit employees' opportunities to file grievances and the amount of money teachers can be paid for participating in the new hiring process.
In remarks to the board Thursday morning, Christine Campbell, president of AFT West Virginia, said the policy did not reflect discussions between stakeholders and lawmakers as they worked to pass the governor's legislation reform policy earlier this year.
"The fact that we have not been allowed the opportunity to discuss this openly with all stakeholders, or ample time to work through the process of developing a sensible policy that works in the best interest of everyone, is disheartening to say the least," she said.
"If this policy is adopted in its current form, you will leave us no choice but to challenge its validity by whatever means necessary."
During the meeting, department officials met again and revised the policy to reflect some of these complaints.
The revisions eliminated the language regarding employee grievances. The provisions regarding pay for teachers involved in the hiring process was not changed.
"Obviously there is a balance trying to be struck here," said board member Lloyd Jackson.
"The counties have a legitimate interest in that this is being forced on them without any additional funding, and obviously the teachers have an interest in that if they're being asked to do this without compensation, they may not want to do it ...
"Probably neither side is happy right now, but we've done the best we could."
The policy will go into effect under emergency rule, taking effect July 1, with the rest of the new education reform law. It will be out on public comment for 30 days, even after it has taken effect.
Teachers union officials hope to use that time to get the rest of their recommendations reflected in policy revision.
WVEA President Dale Lee expressed concern that this comment period comes over summer break, when it is harder for teachers to participate. He said that's because the new policy wasn't completed until this week, just before the board needed to vote on it.
"This bill was passed in March ... We immediately voiced our concerns with this when we saw the written bill," he said.
"We felt like there was ample time to get changes made in hiring rules rather than doing it over the summer here."
The new policy is meant to give schools greater flexibility in selecting new teachers.
Under the policy, schools are able to establish a faculty committee to help in teacher selection and make a joint recommendation with the school's principal and the county superintendent.
State school officials are touting it as a way to shift control to the local level, giving teachers more control over the composition of their school community.
"This is a substantial sea change in the way we hire people in West Virginia," Jackson said. "I think that's unimaginable empowerment for teachers."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at email@example.com or 304-348-4886.