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Education reorganizing space to include Gayle Manchin office

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One month after Gayle Manchin was chosen as president of the West Virginia Board of Education, the state Department of Education is reorganizing its office space -- including a new office for the school board president for the first time in at least a decade.

The state school board president has never had his or her own office, but space in the board conference room in Capitol Complex Building 6 has always been considered office space for the president, according to Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

For the first time, plans for "more of a true, real office" for the president are in the works, Cordeiro said.

Additional office space for Manchin -- wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who appointed her to the board when he was governor -- as well as office space for board staffers Donna Peduto and Virginia Harris will be cleared on the sixth floor of Building 6 in the near future.

Harris is the board's longtime secretary. Peduto was hired as a $350-a-day consultant a year ago to help board members respond to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education audit. In March, she was hired as the board's first-ever director of operations, at an annual salary of $104,000.

"Securing office space in Building 6 is not about power, but instead it is about assuming a more visible role in our responsibility and accountability as a board in developing good policy that the [Department of Education] implements to improve student achievement," Gayle Manchin said through a spokeswoman Friday.

Since taking the spot as president, Manchin has talked about accountability and responsibility, saying the role of the board had devolved into something it wasn't designed to be.

Her predecessor as board president, Wade Linger, also has recently expressed a need for a clearer distinction between the Board of Education and the Department of Education.

The board recently agreed to hire outside counsel to oversee its nationwide search for a new superintendent, with its members saying they feared that using the department's in-house attorneys would create a conflict of interest between the counsel and the current superintendent, Jim Phares.

Those issues are irrelevant to the new office arrangements, Manchin said.

A use for the board president's former space in the conference room is to be determined, and Manchin's new office also will be available for use by all school board members who need an area for meetings or to make phone calls, according to Cordeiro.

"Is the space that's always been considered office space for the board president conducive? The answer is no," Cordeiro said. "The idea here, more than anything else, is that we have space for the Board of Education, but also we want to open it up for more room for the public."

The Department of Education has been making renovations and consolidations throughout the building for nearly two years -- including reorganizing the technology and assessment departments -- thus opening up new space, Cordeiro said.

Additionally, the board conference room is scheduled to move from its traditional space on the third floor of Building 6 to a larger space on the sixth floor, but those plans have been put on hold for now, Cordeiro said.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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