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Legislators hear board audit response

Legislators expressed mixed feelings about the state Board of Education's response to a highly publicized education efficiency audit but agree it is a starting point for change.

President Wade Linger presented the board's response to the audit at a legislative committee meeting on Tuesday. Released in January by nonprofit Public Works, the audit made more than 50 recommendations for making the school system more efficient and cost-effective.

The board released its own response to the audit last week. After spending months on the document, Linger said he thought it was a bold step from the board.

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, disagreed.

"I think it needs more specificity, in terms of specific things that are needed," said Plymale, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

"Let's be specific on these things. If we're willing to go ahead and make these bold moves, let's do it once. Let's do it well-articulated by studying the things that we looked at and do it only one time," he continued. 

Plymale called the board's stance on a balanced, or year-round, school calendar "weak" and wanted more specific direction as to what code changes the board thought the Legislature should address.

Delegates Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and Brian Savilla, R-Putnam, both mentioned portions of the audit that discussed the number of people working in the Department of Education and the number of regulations concerning education in the state.

Armstead asked if the board was looking at reducing the size of the department staff and the number of regulations. Savilla questioned the need for the department at all.

After the meeting, Linger said he was a little surprised by Savilla's question.

In addressing Armstead and in comments after the meeting, he said he thought the board was working to restructure the department but it was the Legislature's responsibility to address regulations.

He also mentioned that 30 positions in the department are vacant. When asked by the committee, Superintendent Chuck Heinlein could not say how many were federally funded and faced elimination anyway.

Legislators did not vote to approve or accept the report, but Linger and others said the discussion was a good starting point for change. Linger said he thought the idea of being more specific and bold "was music to my ears," and he took the statement as a mandate to lead.

"After what I heard today, I felt that they're looking to this board for leadership," Linger said after the meeting. "And we're not going to skip the opportunity to lead if that's what they're actually asking the board to do, what I believe the board was intended to do." 

In the past, Linger said other board members or educators have told him not to waste his time with certain ideas or initiatives. They are the professionals, Linger said, so he deferred to their judgment. He took what he heard from legislators Tuesday night as a signal for the board to take the reins on education reform.

The audit called for making student performance the determining factor in teacher evaluations and streamlining professional development practices.

Several legislators said they thought teachers were forced to spend too much time with professional development, continuing education or other tasks that prevented them from teaching.

Linger said the board supports its current teacher evaluation system, but it plans to establish a West Virginia Teacher Effectiveness Measure. The board will create a committee to help define what "effectiveness" actually means so that the measure could be used in matters of hiring, firing or advancement.

Linger said too many reports and tasks take up part of the teacher's day, and the board is trying to cut back on those "onerous" responsibilities. He said the board and department have already eliminated or consolidated 60 policies, and he hopes to address more in the future.

Both Linger and Plymale said the document was a starting point, and that stance was shared by many legislators who spoke Tuesday. The committee invited Linger to return to its next meeting to address further questions.

The committee also heard from Rebecca Randolph, head of Vision Shared. The nonprofit helped coordinate eight public forums on the audit over the summer.

Although there was some consensus from forum participants, Randolph said more discussion is needed.

Linger said he thought Tuesday's meeting was a step in the right direction to reach a consensus and told legislators the board's response was a sign it is no longer willing to accept the status quo.

"Frankly, it's an attitude change, a culture change. And I think you're going to see that with this, and the changes that are going on, we're in the very breach of a culture change," Linger said.

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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