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Education board seeks $350,000 for new positions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Board of Education wants more than $350,000 from the Legislature to fund three new positions.

None of the jobs currently exist, and the suggestions come at a time when the department and board also are pushing to trim administrative positions.

The hiring of a director of operations, liaison and attorney were included in an updated budget request for fiscal year 2014 the board reviewed Wednesday during its regular meeting. The complete salary and benefits for the employees would total more than $362,000 annually, Board President Wade Linger said.

"I think that in the context that you see the state Board of Education that's actually stepping up and taking on its role and doing the kind of things that we're doing now that the board has never done, that the public will applaud it," Linger said of the potential hirings.

"And they will understand that if we're going to do this right, that it's going to require a little bit of help."

After Jim Phares officially became the new state superintendent on Jan. 2, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office gave the department extra time to review its budget request. Although there have been several revisions to the original document submitted in September, this is the first time the board has been allowed any input, Linger said.

A committee consisting of board members Lloyd Jackson and Tom Campbell and department employees looked at the previous appropriation proposals. The committee determined the salary and benefit amounts for the potential new board employees based on the department employee salary schedule, Linger said.

More importantly, in Linger's opinion, it determined the time was right to include the additional staff the board has sorely needed.

A statewide audit of the school system says the department employs too many administrators. However, Linger said that finding is unrelated to these positions because these employees would work for the board, not the department.

"I don't think that the audit said the state Board of Education was bloated," he said. "I think it said the West Virginia Department of Education was bloated. That's two different things."

Linger considers it a key difference. In the months following the audit's release, Linger has repeatedly asked for employees who report specifically to the board. In June, he said a draft document for the board's response to the audit was "flavored" with the department's opinions because the department prepared it.

He asked for and eventually received another liaison, former department administrator Donna Peduto. Although Peduto was officially hired by the department, she essentially serves as an assistant to Linger.

Hired in mid-August at a daily cost of $350, Peduto was assigned to help Linger take the board's notes on the audit and use them to create a report. That report was released in late November. Peduto remains an employee and attends legislative meetings where the audit is discussed.

Linger described the director of operations as someone to work with the board who keeps things moving and organized. He said that's essentially what Peduto has been doing.

Recently Linger also asked the board to consider hiring its own attorney. He thought there might be times when there is a conflict of interest for the department's attorney, and this could be cheaper than using someone from the Attorney's General Office.

The liaison would work with Regional Educational Service Agencies, the department, the Office of Education Performance Audits located within the department and the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, according to the board report.

The department is still committed to trimming positions, Phares said.

For the fiscal year that starts July 1, the department will be down to 307 positions, with an additional 16 department employees moving to the Regional Educational Service Agencies.

Other than the three new positions, the budget revisions changed little.

In August, Tomblin asked most state entities to trim their proposed budgets for next fiscal year by 7.5 percent. The original suggestions, prepared by then-superintendent Jorea Marple, cut about $9 million from the department's budget.

Linger said the addition of three new positions at the same time Phares became superintendent was a coincidence.

Marple's recommendations remain largely the same, according to a report given by assistant superintendent Joe Panetta. The board recommended reinstating $1.1 million for dropout prevention programs, leaving the program cuts close to $1 million.

No budgeting or hiring decisions by the department will be final until after the legislative session, Phares said. The session begins in mid-February.

Contact Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@

dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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