by Wade Linger, West Virginia Board of Education Member
I would like to address a recent editorial in the Charleston Daily Mail about staffing at the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE). As a West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) member, I appreciate the continuing focus on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia's Primary and Secondary Education System. My concern is that the editorial did not account for changes made by the WVBE in the two years since the audit was released. Following are a few of the relevant facts:
Fact #1 - There are actually only 260 full time positions at the WVDE, not 637 positions. The audit missed the fact that hundreds of individuals who get a paycheck from the WVDE are actually teachers and personnel who work in classrooms, for juvenile and adult institutional programs, for the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, for Regional Education Service Agencies, for the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, and for the Office of Education Performance Audits. These positions show up on the WVDE payroll because of the way the Legislature funds the positions.
Fact #2 - Many states rely almost totally on local school boards for education, unlike West Virginia where the state Constitution places the responsibility on the West Virginia Legislature and the WVBE. The 260 WVDE positions provide more than 450 services to classrooms and county systems. These services include vital work such as administrating school food programs, calculating and monitoring legislative appropriations to local school districts, providing early childhood learning resources and delivering online learning programs. These services are not duplicated in all 55 counties at an enormous cost to the people of West Virginia. In addition, it is unrealistic to believe that all 55 counties have the ability to provide all 450 services at the same high-quality level. Inevitably students in smaller, less affluent counties would suffer. So comparing our system to other states is often comparing apples to oranges.
Fact #3 - Of the 260 positions, 114 are funded through federal grants or other non-state resources. That is money the state would lose if these jobs were eliminated. Not to mention additional matching federal grants would be forfeited as a result of losing that staff. So cutting the 114 positions would actually cost the state money, not save it.
Fact #4 - Of the 260 positions, 146 are paid with state funds. Of the 146 positions, 15 are maintenance of effort positions - required to qualify for federal funds and grants. Again, eliminating those positions would cost the state money, not save it. Ninety-two positions provide direct services to students, schools and counties. These positions equate to people in the trenches with students, schools and counties performing tasks every day that simply cannot be done efficiently at the local level. These same tasks certainly could not be done in a fair and equitable way between all counties as required by the West Virginia Constitution. These functions are many and include things like support and curriculum expertise for struggling schools; technology professional development directly to classrooms; Career Technical Education curriculum and services directly to students; and virtual classes directly to students. The remaining positions provide leadership and administrative services. These positions form the infrastructure for the WVDE and are necessary for any organization to function from day-to-day. Jobs include things like the development of policies and procedures such as the student behavior policy and the teacher evaluation system policy; complying with federal guidelines and completing numerous required reports for the Legislature; and many, many other tasks.
Fact #5 - Since the education audit and the WVBE's response were published in 2012, the WVDE has downsized its staff by 28 positions through attrition, reductions, vacancies or transfers to other education organizations.
Fact #6 - The WVDE staff to student ratio is one WVDE state funded position to 2,145 students. That ratio actually exceeds the recent suggestion by some in the Legislature for a ratio of one full time position to 2000 students.
Fact #7 - A report published by the Friedman Foundation notes that West Virginia had the seventh lowest number of administrators and other non-teaching staff compared to students at the local district level during the period 1992 to 2009. This can be attributed to the fact that the 55 county districts in West Virginia are able to operate more efficiently because the WVDE provides many services that local districts must provide in other states.
For two years many people have overlooked the facts and made it fashionable to call the WVDE a bloated bureaucracy. The truth is the WVDE is not bloated. It is staffed by dedicated public servants who do an outstanding job for our state. If anything, it is a lean organization providing quality services to teachers, students and schools beyond those of other surrounding states.