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W.Va. BOE to address governor's efficiency audit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  After months of deciding how to respond to a $750,000 education efficiency audit of West Virginia's public schools, state Board of Education members plan to issue their response at a meeting Wednesday.

The audit, conducted by Pennsylvania-based consulting firm Public Works LLC, was proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin nearly a year ago and is supposed to serve as the blueprint for education reform in the state.

In the report, Public Works is careful to examine the word "audit" and says the project should instead be viewed as an initiative to identify issues and research possible solutions with one main goal in mind: to receive the highest return on educational dollars and make the best use of that spending to increase student achievement.

West Virginia has spent more on primary and secondary education in recent years than most states -- $3.5 billion in 2010 -- but is not reaping the benefits, with students ranking lower than the national average in many categories, according to the audit.

"Unfortunately, this considerable commitment of funds has not equated to a high level of achievement... In sum, West Virginia, unlike most similarly poor states, cannot be said to stint on education spending," the audit says. "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 calls for "a more student-centered" system and lists a range of ideas for improvement, with a large focus on eliminating "excess bureaucracy" and reducing inefficiencies in order to put more money into classroom instruction without raising taxes. 

Recommendations for improvement to the state's education system include:

  • Enhancing collaboration between education and workforce development by better integrating career preparedness into curriculum.
  • Mandating 180 days of instructional time and aligning teacher and support personnel work calendars.
  • Launching a comprehensive plan to recruit the best teachers by hiring the most qualified people regardless of seniority, establishing a Teach for America program and by providing scholarships at state universities to aspiring teachers.
  • Improving teacher compensation to help attract and maintain the best teaching corps possible by encouraging districts to tie compensation to teacher effectiveness - not just experience.
  • Strengthening school leadership by investing in principals by giving them more control over school staff and budgets.
  • Establishing an evaluation system modeled after national best practices and research.
  • Making West Virginia the leader in remote technology and distance learning by ensuring high-speed broadband internet access and replacing textbooks with digital content.
  • The audit describes 56 findings and recommendations for six state-level areas: Administration, facilities, human resources, transportation, regional coordination and ancillary services such as health services, professional development and purchasing.

    The audit claims if the recommendations are implemented, it could save more than $18.1 million in the first year and more than $115 million over five years. Some of those recommendations include:

  • Implementing efficiencies in school building capital projects and management by hiring state employees to replace contracted professionals and amending state code to make more responsibilities fall under the School Building Authority. Estimated savings over five years: $31.3 million.
  • Utilize cooperative and pooled purchasing by developing purchasing plans that allow counties to work with Regional Education Service Agencies and exempt the Department of Education from state procurement laws that require competitive bids. Estimated savings over five years: $25.5 million
  • Resizing the Department of Education by reducing the number of administrative positions and implementing cross-department initiatives to reduce duplication of effort and ensure funds are used as efficiently as possible. Estimated savings over five years: $21.2 million.
  • Ultimately, the audit zones in on three counties to examine the issues from a local perspective. While the audit states it cannot measure statewide implications from a sample size of three counties -- Wyoming, Taylor and Harrison -- it uses the individual projected savings for each county to predict annual savings of about $70 million if recommendations were applied statewide.

    If all of the audit's recommendations are implemented, West Virginia is looking at total annual savings of $90 million, the report claims.

    The Board of Education has spent months preparing an official response to the audit -- hosting a weekend retreat and hiring a staffer to help propose a draft -- and will unveil the response in a special meeting at 1 p.m. at Capitol Complex Building 6, Room 353.

    Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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