JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON (AP) — The state Board of Education issued its long-awaited response Wednesday to a statewide audit of public schools, suggesting immediate action in critical areas such as teacher recruitment and retention, boosting the use of technology and improving efficiency in numerous departments, including reorganizing the Department of Education.
The board released the 130-page response to the wide-ranging audit that was commissioned last year by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and criticized the school system as being too bogged down in state-level bureaucracy.
"We are not satisfied with our current levels of performance and progress," board President Wade Linger said in prepared remarks in the response. "The Board has begun the process of establishing measurable objectives that challenge all schools to improve student learning. We are developing initiatives on the use of time, teaching, technology, operational and management efficiency, raising educational quality statewide and accreditation restructuring — the game changers that will move the system forward more quickly.
He said the board didn't expect a single audit to act as its blueprint for the future, but it was a good start to learn what areas need the most improvement.
The response noted the Legislature must amend state law to address many recommendations, and some suggestions also involve federal funding.
The audit has said the recommendations could save about $90 million a year. While potential savings could be realized, the board said "there is a great need to reallocate this money, where possible, to be better applied in meeting the challenges raised in the audit."
The board mostly agreed with 16 specific recommendations on professional development for educators, including establishing state-level leadership that "has become fragmented" by an erosion of powers and responsibilities allowed in the state constitution. It also supported calls in the audit addressing teacher recruitment and hiring.
The board rejected an audit recommendation to mandate 180 days of instructional time. Instead the board said the department is exploring a year-round calendar "which spreads the required days throughout the year to avoid student regression of learning."
"Quality of instruction is not about time spent in seats, but engagement of students resulting in increased academic achievement," the report said.
The board's response also:
— advanced a call in the audit seeking high-speed broadband access in all schools and providing students the mobile devices to access the Internet. It also agreed to work toward replacing textbooks with digital content and suggests requiring every middle and high school student to take at least one online course.
— opposed the audit's recommendation to require school health centers to perform the duties of a school nurse, free of charge, as payment for the use of school facilities.
— agreed with calls for collaboration between public and higher education and workforce and economic development.
— agreed with recommendations to eliminate 10 upper-level administrative positions in the Department of Education and make ongoing changes to reduce duplication in cross-department initiatives.
— agreed to review the state's Regional Education Service Agencies.
"This is not the end-all document," board member Michael Green said. "This is the beginning."
Wednesday's meeting came the same day that the parents of a special-needs child asked the state Supreme Court to void the board's 5-2 vote last week to fire Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple.
Before the board discussed the audit, two speakers asked the board to reconsider Marple's firing and reveal the reasons behind the move.
"The public deserves to know specifically what led to this sudden turnabout," Charleston parent Karan Ireland said. "The loss of Dr. Marple's leadership is a loss borne by the children of West Virginia."
Board members Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden had voted against the recommendation to fire Marple and vowed to resign Dec. 31 in protest. Ireland and another speaker asked Phillips and Haden to reconsider their decisions.
Linger thanked the speakers but didn't address their questions.
The board will meet again Nov. 29 to vote on Marple's firing because of concerns that it may have violated the open-meetings law when it ousted her Nov. 15.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press