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Tomblin's teacher hiring plan questioned

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's schools superintendent and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's policy director defended the governor's sweeping education bill Thursday, saying it would empower teachers and principals.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, though, said he will not support Tomblin's bill as written. Unger said the Governor's Office hasn't shown that proposed changes to teacher hiring practices would increase student achievement.

"If a hiring process is not broken, why are we proposing to fix it?" Unger, D-Berkeley, said Thursday during a Senate Education Committee meeting in the Capitol. "There ought to be some research that shows this is a problem."

School administrative groups, state school board members and Superintendent Jim Phares have said West Virginia's existing teacher hiring practices -- which give significant weight to seniority -- sometimes force principals and school boards to hire faculty members they don't want.

Under Tomblin's proposals, principals and teachers would have more say in hiring at their schools. Seniority still would play a role, but would carry less weight.

"They're able to choose which teacher best fits their school," said Hallie Mason, the governor's policy director.

Phares said the governor's bill also would allow school boards to re-post jobs if they're not satisfied with the candidate who scores the highest based on eight factors.

"This allows them to continue the search until they get a person who can do the job," Phares said.

Mason also rattled off "misconceptions" about the bill. It doesn't reduce the number of faculty senate days, she said, nor does it strip paid holidays.

In recent days, the unions West Virginia Education Association and West Virginia Federation of Teachers have denounced Tomblin's bill, saying it penalizes teachers and does nothing to increase student achievement.

At Thursday's meeting, Unger asked Mason for "data and evidence" to show that the existing teacher hiring practices prevent the best teachers from securing jobs.

"I'd like you to get some research that says this is a widespread problem," Unger said. "Right now, I just see a solution looking for a problem. We're taking a whole system and changing it because of some anecdotal problems."

Mason said the Governor's Office has fielded numerous complaints about teacher hiring practices, but she indicated that she doesn't have specific research or reports that document the problem.

"We're trying to make sure the faculty senate and principal can bring in the person who best fits [the school] environment," Mason said.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said lawmakers should remove the entire section of state law that dictates teacher-hiring practices.

"We should let the local school board develop the criteria," Carmichael said.

The Senate Education Committee meets again Tuesday. Teachers' union leaders are scheduled to speak.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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