|By Dianne Weaver|
When the State of West Virginia closed hundreds of West Virginia community schools, state education officials promised to save millions of dollars and provide new advanced classes, without making bus rides much longer for students.
Mingo County school board member Bill Duty called consolidation a "bloody hammer," the state generally took over county school systems with consolidation issues, while citing poor academic outcomes for students.
A decade later, bus times are longer than ever and few advanced courses are offered to rural students, and the savings never happened.
West Virginia, by most of the nation's evaluation programs, lists the state as having among the worst achievement results while spending one of the highest sums of money per student.
The rationale now is to blame the highly-flawed No Child Left Behind system, currently being modified or dropped.
But being at the bottom is still being at the bottom.
Student achievement has been stuck or continued to decline, even in most of the counties the state took-over.
Now comes a broad audit of West Virginia's education system, placed in the hands of West Virginia legislators.
The legislature is reviewing a teacher evaluation system and looking at the role of RESA's, cited as part of the burgeoning educational bureaucracy.
The legislature is also looking at the audit's finding that the system could be the most regulated and restrictive in the USA, hampering local school boards, schools and teachers flexibility.
"The system is detailed to the extreme in statutory language that results in an education system that has little flexibility to modify policy and operations without changes to Code," the audit said.
The WV Department of Education said some recommendations can easily be made, but "Other recommendations need careful study and consideration as to their overall effect on the well being of our students, our professional educators, and our service personnel."
"We have encountered no other state that insulates its education system so much from gubernatorial or voter control; restricts local initiative so much on the part of districts, principals, and teachers and vests so much authority for education at the state level."
The audit recommended that the West Virginia Department of Education ax a number of its top-level administrative positions to save roughly $4 million a year.
If the state implements all the changes recommended in the audit, West Virginia could save up to $90 million a year, the report says.
The Department of Education also said it would make it a "legislative priority" to increase teacher and service personnel salaries, a proposal mentioned in the efficiency audit as a way to attract quality teachers to the state.
The state has been unable to reward good teachers and dismiss the others.
The audit suggested giving teeth to teacher evaluations by creating ways to get ineffective teachers out of the classroom.
The audit said student performance should account for more than 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation.
For 10 years there have been initiatives in the legislature to see that school is in session 180 days a year, including bills and announcements it has been fixed.
If history repeats itself, a few of the audit's recommendations will be changed by the legislature.