More people work at the state Department of Education now than a decade ago, despite a sharp drop in student enrollment statewide, personnel data shows.
Overall, the department employs 10 more workers at its state Capitol complex office than it did in 1990. The number of administrators, who include coordinators, directors and assistant superintendents, increased by 17.
The department�s average employee salary nearly doubled, from $27,200 to $51,600, during the same period, rising twice as fast as the rate of inflation.
The personnel increases and salary hikes came as enrollment dropped by 41,000 students across West Virginia.
�They should be ashamed,� said Linda Martin, who heads Challenge West Virginia, a small schools advocacy group. �They�ve added to their numbers and raised salaries while children suffered with longer bus rides, larger classrooms and fewer teachers.�
Since state schools Superintendent David Stewart became superintendent two years ago, the Department of Education�s Capitol office has added 15 employees, according to personnel records released and reviewed by the department.
�It�s something we definitely need to look at and keep a close watch on,� said Howard Persinger Jr., a state school board member. �We want to keep those numbers down as best we can.�
Department of Education officials say the in-house hiring increases were prompted by a rise in state- and federally-mandated programs that the department must oversee.
The department also has hired about a dozen employees for its Office of Technology, which didn�t exist 12 years ago. And the department added administrators to oversee statewide testing and hospitality education programs.
�We have to deliver the curriculum no matter how many students we have,� Stewart said. �We try not to increase staff with state funds. It�s a conscious effort.�
The state education employee increases would have been even greater if the numbers included an additional 16 people who work in agencies that spun off from the Department of Education in the 1990s. The state Office of Education Performance Audits, which monitors student performance and inspects schools, employs seven full-time workers. The state School Building Authority, which funds school construction, employs nine people.
The state�s eight regional education service agencies, which assist county school systems, also are hiring more people. The service agencies employ 28 more administrators now than they did in the early 1990s, according to personnel data. Overall, the agencies employ 368 people throughout the state.
In 1989, the state Legislature and former Gov. Gaston Caperton launched a massive school consolidation initiative, promising to slash administrators, save taxpayers millions of dollars and pump the money into classrooms.
But a Sept. 29 Gazette-Mail report showed that county school administrators had bolstered their ranks during the past decade and failed to document the alleged savings.
Stewart has said that the increase in school administrators across the state was beyond his control.