Maximize Operational Efficiencies
Reorganize the WVDE
The Board has tackled questions of operational efficiencies at the close of Part I in recognition that a logical sequence of reorganization and right-sizing an organization requires first knowing what work is being — and will be — required. Initiatives discussed in Part I may require more staff in some areas, such as personnel in RESAs, in order to provide direct support to struggling schools. The WVBOE urges caution with regard to taking bold steps in staffing before we determine how the organization needs to look following implementation of a myriad of other recommendations.
The WVBOE agrees that a thorough analysis of the overall organizational structure of the WVDE should be conducted to achieve better communication and efficiencies so that resources can be repurposed for innovative initiatives. In the months following the release of the audit report, the state superintendent worked to redefine the organization based on current major functions and goals, rather than funding streams. The superintendent reported approximately 30 positions are currently vacant, with all vacancies being reviewed and only critical positions being filled. Of the 30 vacant positions, six of these are considered top-level positions. The report also recommended increasing the span of control ratio of supervisors to subordinates. The WVDE has addressed this by combining four offices into two, thus eliminating two executive directors. The WVBOE agrees there should not be too many managers managing too few people. The Board continues to stress that WVDE staff must be present at the local level to truly assist the needs of districts and schools, which would involve reallocating resources to RESAs.
The WVDE also has initiated programmatic leadership teams to increase shared leadership and authentic collaboration within the department. The leadership teams may assist in reducing the duplication of efforts and inefficiencies that sometimes occur when "operating in silos," as described in the report. Teams are expected to plan jointly, vet and adjudicate all WVDE initiatives for alignment in order to improve the achievement of all students.
The Board continues to emphasize that changes must be made to leverage capacity across WVDE offices in ways that expand direct services to schools and students.
Assess the 55 County Boards of Education
The system of 55 local county boards of education and all the associated administration has been the third rail of educational politics, but the Board has determined that a meaningful dialogue surrounding this issue must occur. Currently in West Virginia, 28 county school districts have fewer than 4,000 students, 14 districts educate less than 2,000 pupils, and seven counties have fewer than 1,400 students, the approximate enrollment necessary to meet minimum fixed costs under the state aid formula. Most of the smaller counties also have smaller tax bases than the larger counties and some even lack the financial support that a robust excess levy provides. Nevertheless, these smaller counties must meet the same state and federal requirements, regardless of their total budgets. More importantly, the students in these small counties are entitled to the same high-quality education as students in larger, more affluent counties. These mandates make it necessary for smaller school systems to provide most of the same services as larger, more affluent county systems, whether by filling extra positions or tasking staff with multiple functions. The Legislature has made accommodations in the state aid formula and elsewhere to provide relief for the smaller counties, but at some point the shifting of resources this necessitates is not particularly just. In fairness, and in the spirit of providing an "efficient system of schools," the inefficiencies of replicating services 55 times in West Virginia must be addressed.
The Board agrees that the WVDE should establish an initiative to help small counties create job-sharing arrangements wherever possible. We urge a broader view, however, and suggest changes to the context of the system of 55 local boards of education and the unique needs of their students.
Citizens, especially parents of school-aged children, deserve to have a body where they can voice their concerns. Today the 55 local school boards meet that need. But there is no constitutional mandate for that particular organization and there are good reasons to search for more efficient ways to provide those forums without all the costs associated with their current administrative attachments.
In no other area of education in West Virginia is there a clearer reason to put the needs of students above the desires of the adults and to find a way to restructure or remake the system of local boards of education.
Streamline the Professional Development System
The WVBOE agrees that the state should "establish clear state-level leadership on professional development." As the state institution charged with the general supervision of our school system, the Board should be that state-level leader. The task of professional development presently is scattered among many and diverse organizations including, but not limited to:
Current law requires the Board to develop a Master Plan for Statewide Professional Development and all the providers of professional development are required to design their offerings along the guidelines in that plan. While this system may look good on paper, there is insufficient quality control or accountability. The dispersion of funding sources adds to the difficulty of holding anyone accountable for a return on investment in professional development.
The Board believes the first step to achieving accountability and efficiencies across the spectrum of professional development is to establish clearly defined lines of responsibilities among the various providers. We believe this simple step will eliminate overlap and allow providers to fully develop their capabilities in their mission areas.
An example of a possible model for statewide professional development delivery may be as follows:
Each of these professional development providers must make a concerted effort to ensure that staff development is locally determined based on outcome and organizational data. This focus on delivery regionally and locally may involve the re-assignment of state and regional personnel. If the Legislature is inclined to implement this, the Board will work cooperatively to help redirect current funding to implement the structure.
Someone must assume the leadership role, own this issue, and be accountable for the results. The Board is the state-level entity already charged with the general supervision of our schools and the WVDE is the administrative agency to implement the system. The Board looks forward to collaborating with the secretary for the Education of the Arts and the West Virginia Center for Professional Development to achieve accountability and efficiency in our professional development system. To be successful, however, the Legislature must be willing to vest in the Board the authority and resources that now are scattered throughout the system, and then work with the Board as it creates an effective professional development delivery system.
Expand the Capacity of Regional Educational Service Agencies
Two consistent themes running throughout the audit report are the need to eliminate duplication of efforts and distribute centralized resources to the classrooms where they can have the most immediate and effective effect on students. The audit correctly points to RESAs as the logical resources for addressing these needs. Coincidentally, many educators throughout the districts across West Virginia share the same belief.
In closely reviewing the RESA-enacting statute and WVBOE policies, it is clear that RESAs are responsible for
Unfortunately, RESAs have never been able to realize their full potential in performing these functions to the extent envisioned when they were created; reasons for this are worthy of legitimate debate. One obvious reason is that RESAs have never been funded at a level that is required to address the mission. At the same time, other organizations, some under Board control and others not, have established pockets of personnel and capabilities that overlap or duplicate RESA functions. Another explanation is the lack of authority for RESAs to provide technical assistance for low-performing schools and school systems as outlined in statue and policy. Policy or Code should clearly describe the time and manner in which RESAs are involved in assisting low- performing schools. An example would be when the percent of students below mastery is at a given level, to be determined, RESAs must be involved in the improvement process in a school and district.
Over the last 10 years there has been a lack of proper and credible Board oversight of RESAs. The oversight function has become part and parcel of the state Department of Education and its administrators. As such, RESAs have become less relevant, while the WVDE has increasingly adopted legitimate RESA functions.
The WVBOE agrees with the position that RESAs should be utilized more effectively. In order to do that, the Board believes the following changes need to be made:
With proper oversight by the Board and control over the necessary resources, RESAs will be well positioned to eliminate duplication of efforts and distribute centralized resources to the classrooms where they can have the most immediate and effective effect on students.
Re-imagine West Virginia Education Information System
While it was not the subject of significant scrutiny in the audit, the Board believes that many of the suggested efficiencies cannot be accomplished without a remake of the West Virginia Education Information System. Many of the functions performed by educational agencies at all levels depend on WVEIS, and by any standard, it is not capable of supporting the services our students, staff and parents need.
According to the WVDE website, the WVEIS project was created in 1990 by the state of West Virginia to ensure standardized data collection and reporting to the West Virginia Department of Education.
By consolidating individual county computer systems into several larger RESA-based systems, reporting processes were streamlined and individual county expenses were reduced.
The WVEIS project has grown to include every county Board of Education office and school in West Virginia, and has formed a Wide Area Network (WAN) with links to each RESA office in the state as well as to the state Department of Education.
Student applications on the WVEIS network include student scheduling, student attendance, student grading and several custom programs. Financial and employee applications include payroll processing, human resources, fixed asset inventory, warehousing and purchasing.
Unfortunately, WVEIS is a 22-year-old system that is based on antiquated technology. As such, maintenance of the system is cumbersome, while users are left to deal with a system that looks and feels out of date. It is also not considered sufficient for supporting some management operations, including human resources (HR). This has led to counties having to implement their own systems to make up for WVEIS shortcomings. A list of known problems with WVEIS is provided in the Appendix.
Additional county systems' software are not integrated, often due to the difficulty and complexity of integrating with a WVEIS that is based on 22-year-old technology. WVDE technology personnel are reluctant to make changes to the system unless absolutely necessary, which ultimately results in less and less compatibility with modern systems which the districts would like to use.
The state is currently in the process of developing a state-of-the-art Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to integrate 118 various information processing systems in state government. The ERP will update and integrate the state HR, financial and procurement systems. Once completed, the new ERP system will allow all state systems to interact, enabling quicker processing and eliminating data input duplication.
The WVBOE acknowledges the existence of WVEIS on the Web (WOW), an Internet-based adaptation of WVEIS that has been under development for more than six years. Based on information gathered through interviews with users in the field, WVEIS on the Web is notorious for missed deadlines and incomplete functionality. A list of known problems with WVEIS on the Web also is provided in the Appendix.
The Board strongly recommends that all public education functions that can be integrated into the new state ERP system, including financial, procurement and human resources, be migrated from the WVEIS system. Beyond the improvements that the new state ERP can provide, the Board is committed to working with the WVDE and the Legislature to buy or build a modern and efficient system to replace WVEIS.