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School board defends size of its department

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In response to critics who complain of a bloated bureaucracy, the state Board of Education is defending the size of the department it oversees.

Last year, a comprehensive audit of the state's education system found that the state Department of Education was oversized and recommended a "comprehensive re-thinking" of its organization.

With a series of graphs showing the ratio of department employees to students, the report said the department employed too many administrators for too few students and should be trimmed and reorganized to operate efficiently.

At Wednesday's board meeting, President Wade Linger countered with his own figures in a department-prepared report meant to "address the perception and the narrative that the WVDE is bloated and overcrowded, and all the different ways of saying it."

That report, which Linger also has been presenting to lawmakers, is in essence a breakdown of the department's personnel figures. He's trying to explain the breakdown and justify the numbers.  

The issue is the number of full-time employees - the number used in the audit to generate a student-to-administrator ratio that it said was one of the lowest and least efficient in the country.

When the education audit was published, the department had 319 full-time employees dedicated to oversight of K-12 education. Since then the number has dropped to 298. With 283,000 students in West Virginia schools, that's a ratio of 887 students per administrator.

But Linger is arguing that 319 - or 298 - is the wrong number to use.

He thinks the number should be more like 43.

That's the number of state-funded employees dedicated to "management and administration," Linger said. "That's what people think of when they think of a bloated bureaucracy," Linger said.

That number does yield a higher student-to-administrator ratio: 6,581 students for each administrator.

But to get there, officials withdrew several groups of employees from the equation: 33 who work in the field; 116 who are funded with federal money; 16 whose jobs help secure grant money and, finally, 90 who work directly with students, schools and counties.

Linger also argued that the state Department of Education is responsible for an unusually large number of direct services for counties and that shifting control of those services to a regional or local level would be inefficient.

"This is a philosophy," he said. "Do we want to do it at the state level or do it at the county level? But do we really want to replicate those services 55 times?"

The report doesn't include the number of employees in the Regional Education Service Agencies.  It also doesn't address the audit's assertion that the department is top heavy, with a disproportionate number of high-level administrators, resulting in "overlap and duplication of effort."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.



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