"Frankly, it is an attitude change. The audit has set the stage for a change in culture regarding education. No more building-delivered, teacher-focused, time-bound learning. We are not satisfied with out current levels of performance. I just urge that we do it in a thoughtful way ... and not just a knee-jerk reaction to the audit," Linger said.
But Delegate Brian Savilla, R-Putnam, said as a longtime teacher, his concern is with the system as a whole.
"My question is simple: why are you here? Why do we have a Department of Education?" Savilla asked Linger.
Savilla said the Department of Education has a "strong hand" on county school systems and most of the board's recommendations aren't going to fix that.
"Since the department was created, we've seen an increase of everything. On the contrary, we haven't seen an increase in academics. I see a lot of quick fixes - throwing more money at things. What justifies you all being here and not giving power to the county level, which I think could do a better job at handling it?" Savilla said.
Linger said the board is "stepping up to the plate" and Savilla's concerns will be a thing of the past.
"Taxpayers in West Virginia are among the top in the nation contributing to education in terms of median salaries, but performance is at the other end of the scale, and the board is very aware of that," Linger said. "In this audit response... we're willing to take bold steps. There's no one on this board that's satisfied with being at the bottom of the barrel."
While the audit, conducted by Pennsylvania firm Public Works LLC at the request of the governor, claims up to $90 million in annual savings for West Virginia if all of its recommendations are carried through, Linger said " no-brainer" changes to professional development, the school transportation system and other areas could save $17 million almost instantly.
"There has been a lot of press about the savings this thing would create. We really went through trying to see where savings were and get into the spending netted out. It got too complicated," he said. "We need to know a lot more about how deep we want to go into this thing to know what money is saved so we can know where it can be spent."
The committee's concerns voiced Tuesday is telling of the Department of Education's new direction, Linger said.
"I think that's indicative of where we are right now. Everything is up for question now. If somebody can ask why does the Department of Education exist in a serious question, that tells you everything is on the table, and we welcome that," he said. "I was especially pleased with how positive the committee seems to be and was a little surprised they asked us to be more bold.
"I thought we were already being bold," he said. "I look forward to reporting back to the [state] board and coming back to the committee with an actual agenda and challenging them to work through it."
At the committee's request, Linger will be present at the next meeting to further discuss the audit and examine the Department of Education's staff and the state board's plans to downsize personnel.
The board will meet in December to prioritize immediate actions listed in the audit response.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.