PARKERSBURG - The state Board of Education's response to a statewide education audit will be closely reviewed, officials from Wood County Schools said Friday.
The state board Wednesday officially adopted the long-awaited response, which suggests immediate action in critical areas such as teacher recruitment and retention, boosting the use of technology and improving efficiency in numerous departments, including reorganizing the Department of Education.
During a four-hour meeting Wednesday, the board released the 130-page response to the wide-ranging audit that was commissioned last year by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and criticized the school system as being too bogged down in state-level bureaucracy.
Wood County Superintendent Pat Law said he has yet to review the board's response, but said it would be a focus of attention when the district returns to normal session on Monday.
"One of the things that was in that audit was we are one of the most heavily-regulated education systems in the nation, so when they start making changes at the state level, it will affect us here locally," he said.
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools, said Wednesday's response came as many employees were on Thanksgiving vacation, but many officials already were reviewing some of the information.
"There were many administrators at home Googling it during the holiday," she said. "The central office administration will definitely be reviewing this in the weeks to come."
Wood County Schools is the third largest school system in West Virginia, and Woodward said while the district is not facing many of the consolidation issues faced by other school systems, it certainly will be affected by any departmental or policy changes at the state level.
One area of the response which may raise some hackles among teachers is a move toward "re-examining educator seniority in an effort to place the most qualified teachers in classrooms," according to a press release from the state Department of Education.
Millie Stoneking, president of the Wood County Education Association, said addressing low salaries would be a better approach to hiring and retaining qualified teachers.
"The West Virginia Education Association and the Wood County Association believe that students perform better when taught by fully certified teachers, teachers who are trained professionals," Stoneking said in a written response. They have gone to college and have gained knowledge with their years of experience. How can we improve performance by lowering standards and filling vacancies with non-certified teachers?"
State board members said the proposed changes are part of an effort to revamp education in West Virginia.
"We are not satisfied with our current levels of performance and progress," state board President Wade Linger said in prepared remarks in the response. "The Board has begun the process of establishing measurable objectives that challenge all schools to improve student learning. We are developing initiatives on the use of time, teaching, technology, operational and management efficiency, raising educational quality statewide and accreditation restructuring - the game changers that will move the system forward more quickly."
The response noted the Legislature must amend state law to address many recommendations, and some suggestions also involve federal funding.
The board rejected an audit recommendation to mandate 180 days of instructional time. Instead the board said the department is exploring a year-round calendar "which spreads the required days throughout the year to avoid student regression of learning."
"Quality of instruction is not about time spent in seats, but engagement of students resulting in increased academic achievement," the report said.
The board's response also:
* Advanced a call in the audit seeking high-speed broadband access in all schools and providing students the mobile devices to access the Internet. It also agreed to work toward replacing textbooks with digital content and suggests requiring every middle and high school student to take at least one online course.
* Opposed the audit's recommendation to require school health centers to perform the duties of a school nurse, free of charge, as payment for the use of school facilities.
* Agreed with calls for collaboration between public and higher education and workforce and economic development.
* Agreed with recommendations to eliminate 10 upper-level administrative positions in the Department of Education and make ongoing changes to reduce duplication in cross-department initiatives.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.