West Virginia's fastest-growing school district, Berkeley County, would benefit from the proposed changes, said Superintendent Manny Arvon. The state's second-largest school system, Berkeley typically hires 170 to 180 teachers a year, Arvon estimated. Besides seeing enrollment increase by 6,100 students in the 16 years he's been superintendent, Berkeley County constantly loses teachers to districts in neighboring Maryland and Virginia that offer markedly higher salaries, Arvon said.
While seniority is not always a factor in his county, given the turnover, "the language in the bill helps the school keep the best teacher, and not always the most senior one," Arvon said.
"Seniority probably has its place but it shouldn't be the deciding factor," Arvon said. "The job should always go to the best teacher."
Both Arvon and Pendleton County schools Superintendent Doug Lambert said they've always tried to include teachers and principals in hiring decisions. Both welcomed that part of Tomblin's measure.
"If they're going to work in your building, you ought to have a say as to whether they fit in that building," said Lambert, a superintendent for eight years.
Lambert, whose district includes about 1,100 students and 92 teachers, said seniority can play an oversized role. Being allowed to re-post a vacancy also would help his small county, if the initial applicant or two it now draws aren't good fits, he said.
"Counties are unique and what I like about the bill is that it recognizes they are unique," Lambert said.
Tomblin's 179-page bill follows a wide-ranging audit of West Virginia's education system that contrasted low student performance with hefty public spending. Scrutinizing the high volume of rules and top-heavy bureaucracy, the audit said the current hiring policy "is extremely restrictive and provides no incentives or creative options for districts to attract or retain high-quality teachers, especially in low-income areas of the state."
"During this review, several interviewees cited examples of times principals will choose to employ long-term substitute teachers rather than hire a current employee, who on paper meets the criteria for the position, but whom they believe is not the best match for the job," the audit report said.
The Senate Education Committee began reviewing Tomblin's bill last week, and expects to hear from the teachers' groups and other interested parties during further meetings this week.Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press.