ED-WATCH: WEST VIRGINIA'S EDUCATION BUREAUCRACY TOP HEAVY - More Administrators Than NY State

(02/20/2014)

COMMENT Bob Weaver

"All politics are local" is a common phrase in U.S. politics, a principle that a politician's success is directly related to appealing to the simple and mundane concerns or beliefs of voters.

It is much easier to blame local elected officials for problems.

As a Calhoun County commissioner, I have frequently relearned my limitations.

Perhaps the most glaring example of limitations is serving on a county school board.

In West Virginia, the state's school system is ranked among the worst in the USA regarding outcomes, with Calhoun being an example of a system with problems.

The systems administrators, teachers, board members, and even the parents and students, are blamed.

There is lots of blame to go around.

Even the Hur Herald gets blamed for reporting on performance deficiencies.

An audit commissioned by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin revealed that the West Virginia Department of Education had more rules, regulations, formulas and mandates than almost any other system in the USA, many of them fascinatingly placed in code by the West Virginia Legislature.

So much for flexibility.

Teachers and administrators complain they spend more time meeting compliance requirements, paperwork, than focusing on teaching.

A 2011 audit of the WV Department of Education said that the Mountain State has too many administrators.

The state had 637 employees in its central office, including the superintendent, the deputy superintendent, four assistant superintendents, a division assistant chief, an executive director/chief financial officer, 19 executive directors and 27 assistant directors.

Ye gads, then we see the eight RESAs - Regional Education Service Agency - originally designed to help local school systems with purchasing.

The state bureaucracy is on top of the 55 central offices of the 55 county districts.

Calhoun has had a bare-bones central office staff for several years.

A Charleston Daily Mail editorial said West Virginia has a larger state central office staff with 637, with New York state having only 519 state education employees with nearly 10 times the students.

"Having one state central office employee for every 416 students makes no sense. That is the second worst ratio in the nation. Only Alaska is more top heavy. New York seems to get by with only one state school employee for every 5,000 students," said Delegate Gary Gearheart, R-Mercer.

The governor's audit of education in West Virginia, included a recommendation in the number of positions in the state Department of Education.

A new legislative proposal has the state bureaucracy at a maximum of one state school employee for every 2,000 students.

The chance of it passing, not likely.

"Taxpayers as well as primary and secondary students in West Virginia deserve the most efficient use of scarce education resources possible and classroom education should be the primary focus of any education paradigm," according to a reduction bill introduced by Delegate Gearheart.

West Virginia taxpayers, who rank No. 49 in personal income, supports a school system that ranks 17th in spending per student, while other studies say the state ranks even higher in capitated costs per student.

It is with this overlay that performance outcomes in the Mountain State are among the worst in the nation, and local school systems try to fund qualified teachers and keep their school systems afloat.


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