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House panel announced to study education audit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, has assigned a bipartisan group of delegates to become the experts on the governor's sweeping education efficiency audit of West Virginia's public schools.

Thompson on Thursday announced the nine-member panel, known as the Education Audit Work Group, and said the group will delve into the audit so the Legislature could "hit the ground running" when responding to its numerous recommendations. Many of its proposals require changes to state code.

"The education system in West Virginia is on the brink of an overhaul, and it is important that all members of the House of Delegates are up to date and knowledgeable of what the audit recommends and what is needed to improve upon our education environment here in the state," Thompson said in a news release.

Thompson wants the group to "obtain as much information as possible" about the recommendations for the state's school system outlined in the $750,000 audit, which was conducted last year by Pennsylvania firm Public Works LLC at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's request.

The group will become a resource for other legislators so that they can begin to "build common ground," Thompson said.

"I want this work group to have the time to hold discussions with every stakeholder to gain a full understanding of what changes are needed to make West Virginia's school system among the best in the country," he said.

The intended goal of the audit is to receive the best-possible return on education dollars to increase student achievement, create a more student-centered system and eliminate "excess bureaucracy."

West Virginia has spent more on primary and secondary education in recent years than most states -- $3.5 billion in 2010 -- but is not reaping the benefits, with students ranking lower than the national average in many categories, according to the audit.

State Board of Education President Wade Linger said he's glad the audit is getting the attention he believes it deserves.

"The audit has really put the state's focus on education. Any concerted effort the board can see coming from the Legislature is certainly welcome, and we are looking forward to working with them," Linger said. "There are many, many recommendations, and several of them would require code changes, and that will never happen without this kind of attention, so we're glad to see it."

The audit outlines 56 findings and recommendations for six state-level areas: Administration, facilities, human resources, transportation, regional coordination and ancillary services such as health services, professional development and purchasing.

Some of those recommendations include improving compensation that would attract more teachers to the state, giving principals more control, streamlining administrative positions and increasing technology in the classroom.

The auditors claimed that if the recommendations are implemented, it could save more than $18.1 million in the first year and more than $115 million over five years.

Based on a sample of three county school systems, the audit predicts that the state is looking at a total of $90 million in savings if all the changes are put in place.

Thompson and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead chose the members of the work group, which include: David Perry, D-Fayette; Larry Williams, D-Preston; Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock; Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell; Denise Campbell, D-Randolph; Bill Anderson, R-Wood; Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia; and Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha.

"Education is key to moving our state forward and ensuring that our children can stay here and pursue their goals," Armstead said in a statement. "This session will provide us with an historic opportunity to improve education in our state, and I am confident that the members of this work group will put the needs of our children first and work toward making the changes necessary to achieve the best outcome for our students."

The regular legislative session begins in February.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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