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The state school board is about to go wrong

The state paid $750,000 for an audit of West Virginia's public school system. Public Works LLC reported that this state's public school system is the most highly regulated in the nation.

It is also one of the most costly per student and one of the least effective.

The report was released in January, but the state Board of Education has yet to respond.

One sticking point is how to get the best teachers.

The audit recommended that the state let principals hire teachers based on qualifications, not seniority.

As Amy Julia Harris detailed in a story in the Sunday Gazette Mail, the board is afraid to tackle that.

Some members of the nine-member board don't want make teachers unions angry or put political figures in a bind. This concern was evident from a voice recording of the board's retreat at Stonewall Resort, and carried through to its draft response.

The state code "severely limit[s] a principal's ability to recommend for hiring the most qualified and best person for a position if that person is a new employee to the system. While intending to permit the hiring of the most qualified teacher, it in effect defines the most qualified as a teacher in good standing already employed by the county," Public Works said.

For example, a principal who hires someone who does not have the most seniority must give the most senior applicant "a written statement of reasons" why, complete "with suggestions for improving the applicant's qualification."

Board member Lloyd Jackson said the result is that "the senior person gets the job."

Board member Lowell Johnson, a former president of the West Virginia Education Association, said "it's a question of whether you want to get into some kind of disagreement with the unions."

Board member Priscilla Haden, a former teacher, said that given the unions' clout, "I wouldn't touch it."

In the end, the board's draft response to the audit "didn't mention seniority at all," Harris wrote.

The state Board of Education is about to go badly wrong here.

Its first concern should be for students.

Despite generous spending, West Virginia students don't score well on national tests, and are at a disadvantage in life. The state's private sector complains that it can't find qualified applicants for jobs.

The state Board of Education exists to put students' interest first. There's no other point to having a board.

Obviously, the board hasn't put students first, and from the sound of it, doesn't plan to.

That is shocking.

Unions have legitimate concerns about job security. But if a seniority-first policy affects the quality of the teachers principals may hire, the board should change the policy.

As for the political ramifications of correcting a weakness, teachers work for the state, and politicians work for the public, not the unions. Or do they?


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