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Education bill doesn't tackle 'bloated bureaucracy,' union says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's 55 county school boards are hiring more administrators and handing them hefty pay raises, while cutting teachers, according to the state's largest teachers union.

Over the past decade, the number of non-teaching professionals, including central office administrators, has increased by more than 1,000. At the same time, the number of classroom teachers dropped by 1,200, according to data compiled by the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

What's more, the average county school superintendent salary has jumped by 50 percent, according to the union.

"The money is not getting to the classroom," said Judy Hale, president of AFT-West Virginia, "but rather to employees who do not work with children on a daily basis."

The AFT released the statewide data to bolster their assertion that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's sprawling education reform bill (SB359) should include measures to curb the state's "bloated [education] bureaucracy" and "top heaviness."

The Senate Education Committee plans to vote on a revised version of Tomblin's bill this afternoon. The AFT and West Virginia Education Association say the bill penalizes teachers and won't increase student achievement.

Hale said the governor's office has made concessions, but major sticking points, such as changes to teacher hiring practices, remain in the legislation.

"We have made some progress, but the big issues are still on the table," Hale said after a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol.

A statewide education efficiency audit released last year recommended a host of changes to save money and improve student achievement in West Virginia's elementary, middle and high schools. Tomblin's bill incorporates many of the audit's suggestions.

But, Hale said, the legislation ignores audit recommendations that spotlight the state's swelling school administrative ranks.

"We find no mention in this bill that has to do with this bureaucracy," she said.

Central office administrative salaries also continue to climb, she said.

County superintendents made $110,579 on average this year, while assistant superintendents earned $96,000 a year. Superintendents working in counties taken over by the state Board of Education recently received $10,000 salary hikes, bumping their annual pay to $120,000, Hale said.

Meanwhile, West Virginia teachers were paid $45,452 on average, according to AFT's data.

"We are widening the gap between people on the front lines dealing with students every day and the bloated bureaucracy," she said.

Jackee Long, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said Tomblin's bill also won't tackle "top heaviness" at the state Department of Education.

Instead, the legislative shifts education department administrative positions to the state's eight Regional Education Service Agencies, which provide technical assistance to county school boards.

Long said most RESAs are headed by former county superintendents. The agencies have 467 employees.

"Can anyone in this room tell me what they do?" Long asked. "Senate Bill 359 simply trims the fat at the West Virginia Department of Education and gives it to the RESAs. Expanding RESAs will do nothing to improve student achievement and is not an efficient use of our taxpayer dollars." 

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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