Audit: WV BOE Most Highly Regulated, Too Many Top-Level Admin, Little Flexibility Or Innovation
The West Virginia Board of Education says it frankly doesn’t know how to respond to a $750,000 audit of the state’s public education system.
Should there be an introduction in the written response?
What should be the tone?
Will there be enough media-friendly sound bites?
These questions have so bedeviled the state Board of Education that more than six months after the audit was released, the board is going to pay a private outside consultant to draft its official response.
“I don’t think there’s any one of us on this board who has the time or the expertise to sit down and do what needs to be done to write a response to this report,“ state school board member Gayle Manchin said in a meeting last week.
“We keep on talking about how ‘we’ need to fix this report, but I think we need to realize that ‘we’ is none of us,“ said Manchin, wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. “We need someone to write this who reflects our attitude so that the report that comes out…has our voice.“
The board informally agreed that they should hire an outside consultant to draft the official board response at its meeting last week.
State Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said Wednesday she could not provide details about how much money the state board would pay the consultant, and that the details of the consulting firm and price would be ironed out at an upcoming board meeting.
“This is one of those things that when we release this report, it has to be good,“ said Wade Linger, state school board president. “This has got to be good, and it may be possible to do it good and fast but that would be expensive. So it would have to be good and cheap and that weeds out fast.“
The audit, conducted by Pennsylvania-based consulting firm Public Works LLC, said West Virginia has one of the most highly regulated education systems in the country, has too many top-level administrative positions, and has created cumbersome state laws that gave districts little room for flexibility or innovation.
The audit recommended a series of sweeping educational changes—from what it called right-sizing the Department of Education to implementing energy savings in schools that would save millions. If fully implemented, the audit said West Virginia could save $90 million a year on its education system.
The state board was supposed to respond to the audit in June, but delayed after Vision Shared, a nonprofit economic advocacy group, announced statewide public meetings to discuss the education audit.
School board members said they would hold off on releasing their response until Vision Shared had conducted its forums so that the board could incorporate the public’s feedback into its response.
Last week, however, Linger said the board’s delay in coming out with its response was not necessarily due to the Vision Shared forums. He doesn’t think the tone of the board’s existing 10-page draft response is stylistically up to par.
“My feeling was that the tone of [the draft report] needed to be changed so that it reflects the board,“ said Linger. “Right now I don’t feel that the tone of the writing style of it fits that. So until that is corrected, then I think it’s going to be delayed.“
The Board of Education came up with a draft response to the audit in January, saying it would convene a group to look at reorganizing the state RESAs, reduce overly prescriptive policy and request $23 million to support one-to-one technology for elementary school students. Board members met again at a retreat in March to finalize those responses.
State school board member Lowell Johnson said he thought the board’s existing response was a work in progress and reflected what the board had discussed in March.
“I thought we needed to clean up the draft and put it into some kind of order and make certain that what we said was exactly what we meant,“ said Johnson. “Granted, I believe there’s a lot that needs to be done to put it into a format, but I think we just need to reformat it so that it reflects the board and is more understandable.“
But school board member Lloyd Jackson thinks that maybe this is the opportunity for the board to present a sweeping overview of the direction West Virginia hopes to take its education system.
“Our document can either be bare answers or we could take this opportunity to try to create a vision for education in West Virginia, which will take some time and some vision on our part,“ said Jackson.
Board member Priscilla Haden was the one who first floated the idea last week about whether the state should hire an outside consultant to assist them in formulating a response to the audit.
The one issue is how to pay for it.
“Is there enough money for us to hire somebody?“ asked Haden.
There was not an immediate response by the board, but Jorea Marple, state superintendent of schools, told the state board “I’m sure whatever you need we’ll be able to fulfill.“
Several board members said they hoped to have hired a consultant to have their response complete by August.
~~ Amy Julia Harris Gazette ~~