CHARLESTON, W.Va. --It's taken nine months, one weekend retreat, a new hire working around the clock and hours of talk at board meetings for the West Virginia Board of Education to respond to a sweeping $750,000 audit of the state's public education system.
There's just one problem: there's still no official response.
Yes, the board has decided on formatting (it's going to have three or four sections detailing the education department's top priorities).
It's probably going to incorporate bullets, not numbers. That's easier to understand, said one board member. It's also going to have lots of media-friendly sound bites.
But the actual content of the response?
It's still being ironed out, Wade Linger, president of the state Board of Education, said Wednesday.
"Don't get hung up on any single word in this," Linger told the board, referencing a draft response to the audit he presented to the board on Wednesday.
At its monthly board meeting, the state board again discussed how to respond to a voluminous audit of the state's public education system released by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in January. But the conversation was strictly limited to formatting.
"What we tried to do [with this draft] ... is to not just respond to the audit itself ... but put forward our vision," said Linger. "Rather than try to go into excruciating detail about all the findings and get lost in the weeds, we need to bring up the four major areas in a way that is easy to understand."
That sample response -- the content of which, Linger emphasized, was to be ignored -- was printed on a crisp, 13-page stapled document with the words "draft" emblazoned on each page. (A majority of the pages, which were otherwise sparse on details, had sample photos of children leaping and high school graduates throwing their caps in the air.)
"This report will include a plan of action with the recommended actions, key dates, status, tasks and persons responsible," read the executive summary of the response.
But the actual specifics about what action, dates, tasks and people the department plans to take in response to the audit were omitted from the draft response.
It's been nine months since the governor released the education audit conducted by Pennsylvania-based consulting firm Public Works LLC. The audit said West Virginia has one of the most highly regulated education systems in the country, has too much administrative overhead, and has boxed itself in with cumbersome state laws that don't allow for innovation.
The audit recommended a series of sweeping educational changes -- from what it called right-sizing the Department of Education to implementing energy savings in schools that would save millions. If fully implemented, the audit said West Virginia could save $90 million a year on its education system.
The state board was supposed to respond to the audit in June, but pushed back the deadline after Vision Shared, a nonprofit economic advocacy group, announced statewide public meetings to discuss the education audit.
Now, board members said they want to incorporate the Vision Shared forum results in their response.
Linger suggested the board focus its response on four main priorities -- though he said those priorities could change: "Recruiting and Retaining the Best Teachers," "Building West Virginia's Future...One Child at a Time," "Using State Resources More Efficiently" and "Looking Beyond."
"We don't want to come on with an audit response that violates [what we've said is important in the past]," said Linger. "So it's a little bit of a puzzle putting this thing together."
In August, the board hired former state Department of Education staff member Donna Peduto to help the board draft its response to the audit. Since Aug. 13, Peduto has been paid $350 a day, according to the Department of Education.
Peduto said she's been working "full time" on the audit response because "it's crucial to get this out."
Linger said he hopes to have a completed response, complete with proper formatting and content, ready "as soon as possible."
The state board came up with a draft response to the audit in January, saying it would convene a group to look at reorganizing the state RESAs, reduce overly prescriptive policy and request $23 million to support one-to-one technology for elementary school students.
Board members met again at a retreat in March to finalize those responses, but have yet to put them into a format that is ready for public release.
"As this bigger document comes along, I just want to be assured that we've addressed all the recommendations of the audit," said board member Lowell Johnson. "I want to be able when somebody calls me and asks me, what does this board think about, I can go to this document and say, the board supports the role of RESAs in professional development...or whatever it is," said Johnson.
Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.har...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.