CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Both Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and his Republican challenger, Bill Maloney, say a $750,000 audit of West Virginia's education system will be centerpieces of each of their education agendas if voters elect them next month. But which of the audit's 100 plus-recommendations will actually make it before state lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session is still unclear.
In interviews with The Gazette this week, frontrunners Tomblin and Maloney laid out different approaches to their visions for education in the state, but the majority of both candidates' education talking points came from the education audit.
The audit, conducted by Public Works LLC and released in January, lays out a series of sweeping reforms, from recruiting and evaluating teachers to implementing energy savings and streamlining purchasing policies, that could save the state $90 million a year.
"We've got this audit thing done that showed all kinds of savings," Maloney said. "We need leadership to take things on and do them. All the governor has done is go on a listening tour and spending money."
It's been 10 months since Tomblin released the audit, which he said would be the cornerstone of his education reform agenda. So far, there has been limited legislative action on the audit, a fact Tomblin attributes to getting different parties to agree on some of the audit's reform proposals.
He said he is weighing input from the state Board of Education and a series of community forums launched by the nonprofit Vision Shared before he makes a decision on what part of the audit to incorporate.
Maloney said the governor's delay amounts to a stall tactic because Tomblin is scared to go out on a politically risky limb and enact real change.
"He just needs to make a decision, even if it's wrong, just make one," said Maloney, adding he would have called a special session to address the education audit.
Tomblin countered, saying Maloney had no understanding of the political process.
"I'm not sure what his education plan is," said Tomblin. "But there's more than taking the audit and putting a bill number on it and sending it upstairs. You've got to have buy-in. My trademark is to form a consensus. It's a little more complicated than simply saying, let's pass this."
But high-up members of the state's education department think both candidates will punt on acting on some of the audit's most controversial recommendations, like taking seniority out of the teacher hiring process.
"With all due respect, no one's going to deal with this in the foreseeable future," state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple said at a state board retreat in March. "Particularly in an election year, it's never going to happen."
The audit said West Virginia had one of the most tightly regulated education systems in the country, with an overly bureaucratized education department and cumbersome state laws that leave no flexibility for innovation or reform.
"The first thing I would address is to eliminate bureaucracy in the Department of Education," said Maloney. "We have layers upon layers that aren't needed. We need to start addressing those. It might make some special interests mad who are running ads against me."
Tomblin said it's necessary to bring in a wide support base to actually get legislation passed, pointing to what he called one of his signature education achievements while in office: expanding a pilot teacher evaluation system based on student performance.
During this past legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that requires all schools in the state to use a new teacher evaluation system by the 2013-14 school year. The new law requires all teachers, even those who have spent years in the classroom, to have annual performance evaluations. Five percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on standardized test scores and 15 percent will be based on a student's growth from the beginning of the school year to the end of the year.
Maloney, however, dismissed Tomblin's evaluation bill as a "watered-down system" that "didn't do much of anything."
Maloney said he advocates evaluating teachers, but he wants to reward the good ones "without crazy tests."
"Some colleges have peer reviews of faculty members," said Maloney. "Maybe we could adopt it in K-12."
He did not provide more specifics about the audit's recommendation that student test scores should account for 51 percent of a teacher's evaluation, saying he will get fully up to speed when he reads the responses from the state Board of Education and Vision Shared.
The Board of Education is still working on its response, and board president Wade Linger says he hopes to have a final document complete by the end of the year, after the election.