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Lawmakers hear response to education audit

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The West Virginia Board of Education has issued a response to the education audit released earlier this year, and board president Wade Linger has asked the West Virginia Legislature for help in implementing some of the changes identified in the audit.

The board recently released its response to the audit, and Linger said it is laid out in order of the board's priorities. Board members have spent the past 11 months developing the response, "From Audit to Action," which Linger said puts the state's schoolchildren first.

"Throughout the process, that was the exact attitude that we had," he told the Legislature's Education Subcommittee B in reference to the audit's title. "There are an awful lot of adults in the system, and we want to make sure they're taken care of it, but when it comes down to it the audit is about the kids."

But, Linger said, implementing some of the changes may take legislative action. The audit said the West Virginia Department of Education is top-heavy and is the most regulated state department of education in the country. The board has already eliminated 60 policies this year in an effort to curb bureaucracy, but more repeal may be needed. Linger said there are two ways to downsize the department.

"There are too many bureaucrats in Building 6," Linger told the committee. "The other is you guys. There's too much in code."

Rather than cutting positions and putting people out of jobs, Linger said the department is looking to reorganize and restructure to allow employees to work out in the field in Regional Education Service Agencies, or RESAs, or in the counties where they are needed more.

"We need to get more of those people out in the field where the rubber meets the road," Linger said.

However, Linger said board members need to talk with the Legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office to figure out how to best restructure the department while remaining effective. However, he admitted that downsizing the department could indeed happen.

"I certainly recognize that," he said. "I just hope we do it in a thoughtful way according to the work that needs to be done and not a knee-jerk reaction."

Legislators had several questions regarding the evaluation of teachers. A bill to regulate the evaluation of teachers passed the Legislature in the 2012 session, but Linger said the board has some pretty strong ideas of how to evaluate, attract and promote teachers in the school system.

"What we're recommending is we start out with school based incentives," Linger said. "We're recommending a new accreditation process, so we're going to be able to measure the performance from school to school pretty readily. So what we're recommending up front is that the best schools and however that is defined and shown, those schools are recognized and rewarded as a whole school. That will start the process of the system getting used to the idea that doing a better job and recognizing as such leads to better incentives and better pay and so forth."

Linger said a special committee would form to define standards by which teachers would be evaluated. He said the answer to that question would not be found "in some standardized test."