The recent firing of the state Superintendent of Schools is all about change. The state Board of Education decided to fire the superintendent without following proper legal procedures. A second decision to uphold their original decision was made, as it should have been in the first place, with proper notice before their meeting. Later the board was criticized for having historically awarded purchase contracts for, again, not following proper legal procedures.
It is my view that while these situations were both improper they were only used as a diversion to keep the school board from addressing the problems within our educational system. One newspaper editorial called these criticisms a "side show." This editorial added "firing a superintendent is not a tragedy. The failure of West Virginia's expensive public schoolsis." In a recent $750,000 independent audit of the West Virginia school system auditors found many areas in which our school system has been sorely lacking when compared to other states. Our per capita spending on education ranks eighth in the nation and our percentage of personal income spent on education ranks West Virginia number one compared to other states.
The audit found that West Virginia has the most bureaucratic school system in the nation. This fact has prohibited efforts by our governor and our legislators from being successful in bringing about changes needed in our public schools. The audit pointed out that seniority protection of teachers has prohibited the most qualified teachers from being placed in the classroom. They also called attention to the fact that the principals in our school system lack the authority to place the best teachers in their schools.
In a discussion of eliminating seniority as the primary criteria in determining a teacher's placement board member Lowell Johnson, a former head of a teachers' union, said that "taking out the seniority provision of the hiring law would make the teachers' union go crazy." Priscilla Haden, also a board member said "Given the union's influence I wouldn't touch it." According to news reports, Johnson ultimately persuaded the board to write a vague response to the audit's recommendation on seniority.
The audit was also critical of the probation of charter schools in West Virginia. It did not approve of the state being unable to hire teachers who are being touted by the Teach For America organization. This national organization places teachers in the classroom who, through their education and real life experiences, have been found to be very effective teachers in other states.