CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislators expressed several concerns with the Board of Education's plan of action for a sweeping efficiency audit of the state's public school system on Tuesday and urged the board to be more transparent about what it wants in terms of policy change.
At the center of Tuesday's interim meeting discussion was the Board of Education's goals for a year-round school calendar, a better teacher evaluation program, more technology in classrooms and right-sizing of Department of Education staff.
Most of the board's proposals, though, would require amendments to state code, and Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, told Board of Education President Wade Linger if he wanted change, he'd have to be more upfront about it.
The board has a tendency to tiptoe around the issues and needs to be clearer, Plymale said, calling parts of the audit response "gobbledlygook."
When Plymale asked Linger if having a balanced year-round school calendar was one of the board's top priorities, Linger said he "wouldn't go that far" but felt "pretty strongly" about it.
"That's weak. If you sit there and tell me that you feel strongly about some of these things, then that's a fairly weak reply to me. I see a lot of recommendations, but I don't see specifics. If you're saying you need to change code, it's very vague. We're not offended by strong statements that say, 'This is the direction we think you should go,'" Plymale said.
"Let's be very blunt about this: what we're doing isn't working. This is where I agree with you - if we don't make some changes, we are not going to be able to provide the workforce for the 21st century. We're behind."
Senator Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, also urged Linger and the board to take a more proactive approach.
"We're looking for some leadership. You're asking for some bold moves here, so there's no point in you being timid in asking us what you need. Most of us recognize there's a need for change. Come to us and tell us what we need to do," he said.
Linger said the education committee's request was music to his ears and admitted there is much regulation that prohibits the board's goals for change. In the past year, the board has worked to eliminate 60 policies to lessen "overly burdensome" guidelines, Linger said.
"We wanted to be careful and think it through and not be so bold to say that we demand the Legislature do something. How strong can you be without offending someone by demanding that the Legislature do something? " Linger asked the committee.
One of those recommendations the board feels strongly about is downsizing the Department of Education, which the audit said was overly bureaucratic, and redistributing some personnel to Regional Educational Service Agencies to work on a county level.
The board also wants to improve its teacher evaluation system and plans to establish a committee as soon as next month that will better define "teacher effectiveness" in order to measure progress and hold the right people accountable, Linger said.
Other primary goals, what Linger referred to as "the big rocks," include allowing principals more control of funding and hiring and firing, emphasizing individual learning with technology, and collaborating with career and technical centers to provide options for at-risk students.
Several members of the committee expressed concerns about how too much professional development keeps teachers out of the classroom and questioned why the audit response lacked much of a focus on student absences.