Teachers union wary of shifting control
The head of West Virginia's largest teachers union is wary of education reform plans that involve shifting more control to regional bodies.
Judy Hale, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said Monday she was optimistic about some ideas state Board of Education President Wade Linger recently presented to a group of legislators.
But she balked at the idea of asking Regional Educational Service Agencies, commonly referred to as RESAs, to provide teachers with professional development.
"What they do with professional development, they come out and they give you a PowerPoint. And they read a PowerPoint to you," Hale told Linger and legislators.
There are eight such agencies spread across the state. In theory, the agencies are to coordinate services between counties within their areas and also with the state Department of Education.
In practice, the services provided depend on the region itself, according to a statewide audit of the education system.
Released last January, the audit recommended more than 100 changes auditors believed could save the state money while helping schools and the department function efficiently and effectively. A large part of increasing the efficiency of the department involves shifting more responsibility to RESAs.
"The lack of a statewide, coordinated planning process for the RESAs creates a system that fosters independence but allows the RESAs to work in isolation, sometimes to the detriment of the entire system," the audit states.
The audit goes on to say a comprehensive plan of what is expected of RESAs would help the department and county school systems.
In its response to the audit, the state board agrees it could expand the duties of the RESAs. Compared to the Charleston-based department, the agencies are in a great position to provide professional development for teachers, Linger said Monday after the meeting.
In Hale's opinion, RESA personnel don't understand the training material or what teachers need to learn. Teachers themselves are better positioned to provide that training, she said.
"You have a cadre of teacher leaders in the building; they know that Mrs. Jones can't handle her classroom or needs work on classroom management," Hale told the legislative group.
"You know that at the local level. You don't know that at the RESA level," she continued.
Linger thinks that's because the RESA have never really been adequately funded or staffed to perform the job expected of them. He said he understands Hale and others might have had "less than stellar" experiences with the agencies, but moving qualified people into those agencies will help. He also disputes the idea that RESAs have failed to perform across the board.
There are people who know how to train teachers at the department, Hale said. But shifting those employees from the department to the RESA does nothing to alleviate another concern raised in the audit: too many administrators.
"Moving members of the state department from the state department to the RESA is not solving the problem of top heaviness; it's making it worse. You're creating a larger (level) of bureaucracy," Hale said at the meeting.
Linger disagreed. Moving people from the department to an agency below the department is the definition of eliminating top-heaviness, he said.
"When you use a term like 'top heavy,' I assume it to mean Charleston. We're taking these things out of Charleston and moving them out into the field. They are by definition not at the top," Linger said Tuesday in a phone interview.
Both Hale and Linger said they appreciated hearing from one another during the meeting.
They spoke during the second meeting of a group of member of the state House of Delegates who are studying the audit. House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said he created the group so it could serve as a resource to legislators once the legislative session starts.
The session starts Feb. 13. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin mentioned education reform Monday in a speech following his inauguration and is expected to present something to the Legislature early in the session.