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Education audit calls for Secretary Goodwin as 'watchdog'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While the governor's education efficiency audit recommends that some responsibilities of the Department of Education and the Arts be handed over to the state Board of Education, it urges agency Secretary Kay Goodwin to act as "the watchdog" and strengthen her oversight of the board.

Among a wide-ranging list of recommendations to "right size" the state's education system and cut back on overlapping positions to save money, the audit suggests all professional development -- or curriculum training for teachers and staff -- be overseen by the Department of Education instead of sharing it with the Department of Education and the Arts.

The auditors recognized that their suggestion about professional development raises a question about the overall structure and relationship between the two state agencies.

For instance, if you're going to streamline professional development, then why not streamline everything else?  

"The answers are historically and politically, not education and efficiency, based," auditors wrote.

That history dates back to the 1980s, when former Gov. Gaston Caperton proposed a constitutional amendment that would remove the state Board of Education from the state constitution, placing public education under the Department of Education and the Arts, which was new at the time.

An overwhelming majority of voters disagreed with the amendment, which would have given the governor and legislators more control over the Board of Education, and ultimately, public education.

"In considering the specific recommendation that responsibility for professional development be taken from the Secretary of Education and the Arts and consolidated in WVDE, we necessarily considered the history and institutional arrangements behind the unique role that the Secretary has played in West Virginia," auditors wrote.

West Virginia's education system is unlike most states. The Department of Education, governed by a state board, is constitutionally separate from the executive or legislative branch, which creates a system "detailed to the extreme in statutory language" and results in little flexibility to modify policy, according to the auditors.

"We have encountered no other state that insulates its education system so much from gubernatorial -- or voter -- control, restricts local initiative so much on the part of districts, building principals and teachers, and vests so much authority for education at the state level," the audit says.

But that runs counter to most of the concern and thinking in educational reform today, auditors said, which says that "individual initiative and accountability should be encouraged, while responsibility for education must ultimately come to a single point at the top of the pyramid."

The auditors go on to say that those facts should not prohibit the state board and the Department of Education from working closely with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to better the system. They called Goodwin "a forceful and talented" advocate for education policy.

"An important place remains for what Secretary Goodwin has identified as the 'watchdog' and advocacy role of the Secretary in making sure that the [state board] remains publicly accountable and, crucially in a democracy, constantly if collegially questioned," the audit states. "While we recommend that the Legislature consolidate operational roles such as the conduct of professional development in WVDE, we also suggest that it expand the more general oversight and advocacy role of the executive branch through the Secretary of Education and the Arts.

Auditors expected that this recommendation, among others, would  "undoubtedly engender heated debate amongst many in West Virginia."

Although auditors suggested Goodwin's expanded oversight role, they did not get specific.    

Goodwin did not have much to say about her role in the education system's new direction.

"We don't have a role in the audit, really. The audit is about K-12 education, and that's about as much as I know about it," Goodwin said.

She and the governor's staff are "pleased that by the completion of the audit process, everyone will have a chance to hear suggestions and make suggestions for any changes that will make a difference in the expenditure of scarce funds," she said.

But, she said, it's most important that any necessary improvements will benefit students "from early childhood to elementary and high school, all the way to their post-secondary graduation ceremonies."

In its response to the audit last week, the state Board of Education agreed mostly with the recommendations concerning Education and the Arts' roles in professional development. The board said leadership in that area has become fragmented and cited "a substantial erosion of powers and responsibility vested in the BOE by the state constitution."

"Someone must assume the leadership role, own this issue and be accountable for the results," the board members said in their response. They believe the state Department of Education, with the board's oversight, should fulfill that role.  

But to be successful, they said the Legislature "must be willing to vest in the Board the authority and resources that now are scattered throughout the system, and then work with the Board as it creates an effective professional development delivery system."

President Wade Linger will present the board's audit response to lawmakers Tuesday at the state Capitol.Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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