CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Teachers union officials, state lawmakers and the governor's office resumed talks over the weekend on an education reform bill expected for a vote on the Senate floor today.
No changes had been agreed to but one union official said he was optimistic about potential tweaks to the legislation.
"I think we've made some progress," said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
Although a heavily revised version of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill was set for a vote in the Senate on Friday, lawmakers instead went behind closed doors for discussions. Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said on Friday that closed-door talks lead to more open discussion.
Rather than push the bill through, Kessler said it was better to take "a deep breath."
He expected the bill would move on quickly to the House after today's vote. With any luck, he said it would be out of the Legislature well before the end of the current session.
Among other things, the bill would curtail the influence seniority plays in the hiring of teachers. That change is one of a few details to have riled unions.
While seniority usually reigns supreme when determining which teacher gets a job, state school systems sometimes pass over the most senior job candidates in favor of less-experienced, but better-qualified, teachers.
Rick Hicks, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, said there are a few reasons school systems rarely use that option, however.
First, the state's hiring process is stacked in senior teachers' favor.
But if a job seeker loses the position to a less-senior teacher, state law says he or she has the right to request a letter from the school system explaining the reason.
Hicks said that letter, which must include a list of things the unsuccessful teacher can do to improve his or her chances in the future, could prove dangerous for school systems.
"You've got something in writing that could be carried on into grievance proceedings. You're basically providing documentation they could use against the system," he said.
Hicks said some in the state education community feel that requirement, to put details of administrators' hiring decisions in writing, is one reason school systems so rarely go against seniority.
Hicks is a retired educator, serving as a teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal, principal and superintendent throughout his career.
And while he spent more than a decade as a school-level administrator, overseeing the hiring of many teachers, Hicks said he never sent one of those letters, because the senior-most teachers almost always got the jobs.
When teachers from within a county school system apply for another position there, state law requires administrators to fill the job using a seven-point checklist.