CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform plan would ease restrictions on the hiring of teachers and on providing teachers with daily planning periods.
It also would provide participants in the controversial Teach for America program a path to the classroom in this state.
Those measures are among many changes proposed in a 179-page bill introduced on Tomblin's behalf in both houses of the state Legislature on Monday.
The state Board of Education, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and several legislators immediately voiced support.
Teacher union officials think his ideas missed the mark.
"It almost looks like they looked at the research for the last 20 years and said, 'OK, let's just ignore that and do the opposite,'<\!p><\#148> said Judy Hale, state chapter president for the American Federation of Teachers.
During his State of the State address, Tomblin pledged to focus on ways to improve West Virginia's struggling public school system.
His bill takes a broad approach. It proposes 26 code changes, the repeal of seven statutes and the creation of six new ones.
"We're ready to discuss the whole bill. The governor wouldn't have put all these items into the legislation if he didn't think they were important," said Hallie Mason, Tomblin's director of public policy.
Mason said Tomblin sees five pathways to education reform, the subject that dominated his annual speech. After the bill's introduction Monday afternoon, the provisions drawing the most attention were teacher seniority and the Teach For America initiative.
School administrators have complained they are hamstrung by current laws governing the hiring process that give too much weight to seniority.
Two sections of current state law address hiring practices. One deals with teachers and the other with all other school positions.
The law lists seven criteria that should be taken into account when teachers are hired, but Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln and assistant principal at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston, recently said seniority is the overriding factor.
Tomblin's bill would eliminate that entire section of the law, a move Stowers heralded.
"By striking out the way we do hiring now in West Virginia, I think he's given us an opportunity to basically just rethink the way we hire teachers in West Virginia," Stowers said.
A revised section would apply to all "vacancies in professional positions of employment." That section already included six criteria for hiring that were similar to the code relating to teachers but not as specific.
Seniority would be added to those criteria under the Tomblin bill, something Stowers said he also believes is important.
The changes are intended to give school administrators more latitude in hiring, Mason said. Faculty senates would be allowed to provide input on hiring to the county school board.
"The governor believes teachers know what types of skills other teachers can bring to their schools to help increase student achievement .<\!p>.<\!p>." Mason said.
The AFT's Hale and Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, have repeatedly expressed opposition to changes in hiring practices. Tomblin's bill eliminates the portion of code calling for equal consideration of requirements in the hiring process.
That's a problem, Hale said.
"Of course, doing away with the second criteria and using just the first one, in terms of hiring, makes hiring totally subjective," Hale said. "They could say, 'We could make this one count 98 points and all the rest of them count one point.'<\!p><\#148>