Principals need to be able to hire the best
With spending per student above the national average and academic achievement at or near the bottom, West Virginia needs to dramatically improve its public schools system.
One trouble spot is what factors may be considered in the hiring of teachers.
Current law effectively makes seniority the deciding factor, although supporters of the current system say otherwise.
"It is one of seven or eight other criteria used to hire teachers," House Education Chairman Mary Poling, D-Berkeley, told the Daily Mail's Dave Boucher.
Not really. Three of the seven criteria cover total teaching experience, teaching experience in the subject ("required certification area") and seniority. The section of the code covering the hiring of teachers uses the word "seniority" 24 times.
Seniority was supposed to be only one factor, said state school board member Lloyd Jackson, a former chairman of the state Senate Education Committee.
"I remember we had that for about two years in West Virginia after we gave teachers a $5,000 pay raise," Jackson told his colleagues last March. "We changed the law and it was a quid-pro-quo. I was there when the teachers unions came in and cut the deal.
"We put seniority on the list for principals to hire teachers, but it was just one thing among others to be considered. But later, people in charge just undid it and changed the law . . . and it just became impossible to hire people not based on seniority."
Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, an assistant principal at Horace Mann Middle School, is also clear that seniority is the deciding factor.
"I know it is, because I do it every year," he said.
Stowers told Boucher that he thinks more flexibility in hiring would be helpful. He has heard that teachers shy away from applying for positions simply
because of fears that seniority alone will determine who is hired.
"If teachers knew that they have a better shot than they do now, I think you'd get more applications from within the school system," Stowers said.
"There needs to be more to hiring a teacher than just seniority."
Experience does matter, but so do many other things. The Legislature needs to give principals the power to hire the best person for the job.
If loosening the stranglehold that seniority has on hiring decisions resulted in a broader, deeper pool of applicants, students could benefit.
When students aren't achieving, that matters.