The department had begun heeding the audit's call to cut its ranks in advance of Tomblin's ongoing push to improve public schools. Before her abrupt November firing as state schools superintendent, Jorea Marple had identified 30 vacant positions, which then remained unfilled unless deemed critical. The Board of Education's response to the audit estimated that this step would reduce annual spending by $1.2 million.
The board also has continued another process begun under Marple, to reorganize department offices and programs around goals instead of whether their funding comes from federal, state or other sources. That has allowed the department to consolidate several upper-level jobs, the board's audit response said.
But the board was criticized by some lawmakers earlier this month when it voted to create a new executive post, director of operations, at an annual salary of $104,000. During the Senate's review of Tomblin's bill, state schools Superintendent James Phares explained that this new administrator will act as a go-between for the board and the department.
"So you need a liaison between the two?" asked Senate Majority John Unger, D-Berkeley. "I thought you were the liaison."
Critics of the department's size also have questioned the decision by Tomblin and the board to shift some of its duties to the Regional Educational Resource Agencies. President Judy Hale of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia is among those who consider these regional agencies another layer of bureaucracy.
Left largely unmentioned this session, meanwhile, is local-level bureaucracy. The board noted in its December response to the audit that of the 55 county school systems, 28 have fewer than 4,000 students. Of those, 14 have half that number and four are at or below 1,000 students.
"The system of 55 local county boards of education and all the associated administration has been the third rail of educational politics, but the Board has determined that a meaningful dialogue surrounding this issue must occur," the audit response said.