Audit Findings Highlight Challenges Facing State Schools - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Audit Findings Highlight Challenges Facing State Schools

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CHARLESTON, WV -

Sometimes things get so bad on the inside, someone from the outside has to come along with a fresh look at how to fix things.

Education in West Virginia became one of those things, and in the past year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered an efficiency audit to improve student education.

He announced the results earlier this year, and for nearly 12 months the findings have been mulled over, mumbled about, embraced and chided.

The audit, as well as the overall health of West Virginia's schools, came to the forefront in political circles, however, in mid-November after the State Board of Education fired State Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. The board did not give a reason for Marple's termination, but members later said some people at the state Department of Education may not have embraced the 143-page audit, performed by Public Works LLC for about $750,000, and its more than 50 recommendations.

So what exactly are the highlights — and lowlights — of the report? Well, in short, West Virginia was found to have one of the most highly regulated education systems in the country and ranks eighth in education expenditures, relative to income, but scored below the national average on 21 of the 24 indicators of student performance as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The recommendations are spread across six areas:

  • Administration
  • Facilities
  • Human resources
  • Transportation
  • Ancillary services such as health services and back-office staffing
  • Regional coordination.

Public Works President Eric Schnurer said in a phone interview Nov. 28 his company performed a similar educational efficiency audit 10 years ago in New Mexico, but every state is unique.

"I think there's a widespread recognition in the state, the things we talked about, particularly the need to invest in the state's teaching force, improving teaching, empowering principals and bringing West Virginia to the cutting edge of technology," Schnurer said about the audit findings. "Hopefully they will be implemented."

The recommendations, according to Public Works, could create more than $18.1 million in savings in just the first year and $115.7 million over the course of five years.

More specifically, some of the recommendations include:

  • Implement additional initiatives to partner with school districts and RESAs to provide the technical assistance and support districts need;
  • Hire state employees to replace some contracted professional consultants, such as architects and engineers;
  • Move Cedar Lakes Conference Center out of the Department of Education to a department with the resources, expertise and mission to support a facilities operations;
  • Update district and WVDE hiring practices;
  • Purchase one bus routing system for the state and require all counties use the system;
  • Amend Section 18 of the WV Code to allow counties to use nurses and other appropriate professionals in all health care agencies;
  • Improve professional development data to minimize course duplication;
  • Amend Chapter 5A, Article 3 of the WV Code to allow schools operated by the WVDE to purchase materials and services from county and RESA cooperative contracts;
  • Educate districts on the role of RESAs and correct the perception that districts must invite RESAs into the county.

"The main thrust of this review is to make the West Virginia educational system more efficient, from top to bottom, so that tax dollars can be better spent educating our children," the audit reads.

Drilling down another layer into classroom instruction reveals even more recommendations:

  • Enhance collaboration between education and work force development;
  • Mandate 180 days of instructional time and align teacher and support personnel work calendars;
  • Launch a comprehensive plan to recruit the best teachers;
  • Establish an evaluation system modeled after national best practices and research;
  • Improve teacher compensation to help attract and maintain the best teaching corps possible;
  • Strengthen school leadership by investing in principals;
  • Make West Virginia the leader in remote technology and distance learning.

The West Virginia Board of Education issued its 130-page response to the audit during a four-hour long meeting Nov. 21, and a representative presented its information to lawmakers Nov. 27.

In short, board President Wade Linger said state school board members were "not satisfied with our current levels of performance and progress.

"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."