CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Amid a push for more transparency in West Virginia's teacher hiring process, state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares is denying accusations he played a part in his son's recent hiring as a teacher.
Last year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill -- which also de-emphasized seniority in the hiring process -- gave teachers the ability to weigh in on hiring decisions at their school alongside principals. But if a school's faculty senate and principal agree on the same candidate, they don't have to provide documentation on the hiring process.
That's the case with Phares' son, Tyler, who recently was hired as a teacher by Randolph County Schools -- where Phares served as superintendent before he took the state position one year ago, according to officials.
"The state's teacher hiring practices legislation should not be about the state superintendent, the governor or any other adult in the system. It needs to be about the students and the best teacher for those students. It is unfortunate that the debate over a powerful piece of legislation, which gives teachers and principals an unprecedented voice in hiring the best person for the job, has evolved into allegations about my family," Phares said in a statement Tuesday evening.
"The truth is simple -- I in no way used my influence as state superintendent to get my son a job. He was hired in Randolph County because the faculty senate committee and the principal each independently determined that he was the best candidate for the job."
The House Education Committee passed an amendment to House Bill 4394 Monday evening, which requires school staff involved in the hiring process to more thoroughly document how they reach hiring decisions. That means documentation of the hiring process will be required no matter what -- not just when there's a disagreement over a potential hire.
The state's branch of the American Federation of Teachers has been pushing for the amendment, urging more transparency and looking for documentation to inspect upon complaints from teachers who think they unfairly did not get the job, said AFT-WV President Christine Campbell.
"We're not saying [Tyler] wasn't the most qualified person, but if you didn't give him an interview, then how do we know that?" she said. "We believe that it's all a transparency issue. Why would you not want to have documentation of what you're doing if you're doing it right?"
Campbell said she does not want people to focus too much on the accusation about Phares because she receives similar complaints about unfair hiring practices all over the state.
"I don't even want in that. I want to talk about why this is important, and if this situation encourages people to increase transparency in hiring, then so be it," she said. "The whole point here is transparency and accountability.