CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bid to rewrite teacher hiring practices has sparked an early battle as the Legislature wades through his proposed overhaul of West Virginia's public schools.
Much of the fight revolves around seniority. Tomblin wants it placed among eight factors, including specialized training, relevant experience and academic credentials. County boards would decide which to emphasize when choosing applicants.
The bill also would allow counties to repost job openings to attract additional applicants. It calls on boards to consider what principals and faculty senates recommend, while providing a process for faculty to interview and then weigh in on candidates. Other proposed changes include scaling back seniority's role in transfers when teaching posts are reduced within a school or a county, a process known as bumping.
Supporters include superintendents in counties both large and small, who say these provisions grant needed flexibility. Groups representing teachers have denounced them while objecting to the bulk of Tomblin's overall legislation.
The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia warned members in a bulletin last week that the proposed changes shortchange long-serving educators and "severely impair teacher bidding rights for vacancies."
"It takes us back to the day when hiring was very subjective, when you could hire your nephew right out of school," said AFT-WV President Judy Hale.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, questioned the governor's decision to include these provisions in his bill.
"No one has shown me how the current system doesn't provide the most qualified teacher," Lee said. "It plays to the misconception out there that seniority is the deciding factor, and it's not."
County boards are now supposed to give equal weight to seniority and six other factors when applicants include current educators. But state law also requires a written explanation when a candidate with the most seniority isn't picked, if that candidate requests one. Tomblin's bill removes that language.
"It's my feeling that it does weigh heavily toward seniority as one of the criteria," Wood County schools Superintendent Pat Law said of the existing process. "Ultimately, when you are trying to find the best candidate, many times the most senior person is absolutely the best person for the job. However, there are times when seniority and having the credential doesn't create the best choice for instruction in that classroom."