CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Get those No. 2 pencils ready; here comes a math problem.
Two teachers apply for the same job. They have the same degrees and certifications, but one teacher has been working in the profession for 15 years. The other candidate has worked as an educator for only two years.
So, which teacher will get the job?
It actually has little to do with arithmetic.
There are two sets of hiring criteria at work in West Virginia's school systems. One set of criteria is a seven-point checklist, used when teachers already working in a county apply for another job there.
Seniority receives just as much weight as other factors in this set of criteria, including teachers' total years of experience, their certifications and educational backgrounds.
But seniority is not transferable in West Virginia. When an educator switches counties, his or her seniority resets to zero.
"It doesn't transfer across counties," said Rick Hicks, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators. "Someone within the county would have a leg up over someone from outside the county."
That means a teacher with two years of experience working in Kanawha County Schools likely would beat out a Boone County teacher with 15 years of experience if both were applying for a job in Kanawha.
The second set of criteria is used only when no teachers from within a county apply for a job there.
Since seniority is not an issue, it doesn't factor into the hiring process.
Hicks said that second set of criteria gives counties more flexibility in other ways, too. Hiring committees can look at teachers' college grade point averages and results of previous evaluations. Hicks said schools could even ask candidates to present sample lessons to get a feel for their teaching styles.
Under the second set of criteria, that 15-year veteran educator likely would get the job . . . as long as the two-year teacher was not more qualified.
"Years of experience to me do not necessarily equate to the more qualified candidate," said Barbara Brazeau, director of personnel for Putnam County Schools.
"You have to look at evaluations. I know people who have lots of years of experience, now retired, and they weren't all that great."
School administrators admit these dual hiring systems are confusing and "clear as mud."
But a bill currently working its way through the state Senate would significantly simplify the process.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill would eliminate the first set of criteria altogether. It then would add seniority to that second list of criteria and allow local school systems to determine how much it matters in the hiring process.
"At the end of the day, we want faculty and principals to have more of a say," said Hallie Mason, Tomblin's public policy director.