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Educators given deadline to respond to audit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers are giving the West Virginia Board of Education a November deadline to respond to a sweeping $750,000 audit of the state's public education system.

"We're setting a November date for them to be here, and we expect a response," Sen. Gregory Tucker, D-Nicholas, said Tuesday. "The audit is one of the most important education issues we're going to take up. That gives them ... months."

But Wade Linger, president of the West Virginia Board of Education, isn't so sure the Education Department can come up with a full-fledged response in two months.

"I've said over and over again, the most important thing is to do it right, and myself and the board both want it done as quickly as we possibly can," said Linger. "But if I have to pick between rushing it and not feeling good about the response, then I'll choose writing the better response."

Linger added that he would be happy to brief legislators personally on what progress the board has made on the audit at the November interim meetings.

It's been nine months since the governor released the expansive audit of the state's public education system. The audit, conducted by Pennsylvania-based consulting firm Public Works LLC, said West Virginia has one of the most highly regulated education systems in America and has far too many top-level administrators.

The audit recommended a series of major educational changes -- from what it called right-sizing the Department of Education, to easing requirements for teachers to gain certification to changing public schools' energy policies. If fully implemented, the audit said West Virginia could save $90 million a year on its education system.

For months, state board members have gone back and forth on how to respond to the audit. Should it be an expansive document laying out a shining blueprint for West Virginia education or a cut and dried, bullet-by-bullet response to the audit's numerous recommendations? At their meeting earlier this month, board members decided they'd settle on something in between. They discussed formatting of the response, but glossed over details of the actual content.

The state board had hoped to respond to the audit by June, but pushed back its deadline after Vision Shared, a nonprofit economic advocacy group, announced statewide public meetings to discuss the audit.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, chairman of the education subcommittee, said lawmakers want to hear from the Education Department by the November interim meetings so they can act on the audit's recommendations in the upcoming legislative session.

"Our intent is not to leave this audit laying on the shelf," Perry said.

Linger said he has wants to "have this thing done before the end of the calendar year."

"I truly hope that we can accomplish that," he said. "I expect to accomplish that, but I'm not trapped into that. With something like this, the closer that you get to calling it done, the more picky people get about the specifics and details and sometimes the last mile is the hardest."

The state board has already hired an additional staff member to expedite the audit response process. In August, the board hired former state Department of Education staff member Donna Peduto to draft the board's response.

Since Aug. 13, Peduto has been paid $350 a day, according to the Department of Education.

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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