By Nigel E. Jeffries
West Virginia’s school district model is antiquated and full of redundancies that need to be reorganized or eliminated.
The state Constitution, as amended, establishes the West Virginia Board of Education (BOE) and allows, but does not require, the Legislature to provide for individual county boards of education and county superintendents.
West Virginia’s 57 school districts are divided among the 55 separate counties, the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, and Institutional Education (which supervises schools at correctional facilities and juvenile detention centers among other similar institutions). The state BOE and state superintendent of schools exercise jurisdiction over both the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and Institutional Ed districts.
The remaining 55 school districts are supervised by 55 separate county boards of education. Under State Code, county boards of education are comprised of five members, nominated and elected by the voters of the respective county.
In total, there are 275 elected county board members. Board members get paid at a rate not to exceed $160 per member per meeting up to 50 meetings a year (most meet twice a month). Each county board of education appoints a superintendent for a term of not less than one nor more than four years. Currently, the average base salary for a county superintendent in West Virginia is north of $100,000 (with the highest salary at $187,580).
Along with 55 superintendents, there are assistant superintendents, various directors of administrative programs and departments, principals and assistant principals. This structure exists regardless of whether the school district has less than 1,000 students or more than 20,000 students.
On top of all that, each county school district falls under one of the eight Regional Education Service Agencies (RESA), which are governed by the state BOE. Each of the eight RESA regions has an executive director, and a Regional Council made up of county superintendents and one county board of education member from each of the counties that make up the RESA region.
It makes little sense to have 55 separate school districts, 55 different superintendents, 275 elected county board members, eight RESAs, eight Regional Councils and the West Virginia BOE to administer public schools in a state with 270,000 K-12 students.
The reality is that most educational standards, policies or guidelines are set at the state or federal level. County boards are rarely, if ever, setting standards.
The state BOE is responsible for everything from teacher training standards and school nutrition to standardized testing. The state BOE can seize control of a school district if it is not meeting its designated performance requirements. It can also deny consolidation plans.
The primary function of a county BOE is to vote on personnel matters as decided by the county superintendent. The county boards of education approve budgets; however, a majority of that money is tied to specific programs or line-items pursuant to state and federal law. There is little discretion involved. Recently, even pay raises for personnel have gone through the Legislature rather than the county boards of education.
West Virginia must reform the county school district model and reorganize school districts on a regional basis. Those regional districts would be drawn using such factors as geography, enrollment statistics, property tax revenue, class sizes and student commute times.
A reorganization based on the above factors would eliminate the need for a majority of the current school districts, county boards of education, county superintendents or the RESA regions.
The accumulated savings from such a reorganization would be better spent improving student outcomes rather than sustaining the current bloated administrative structure.
Nigel E. Jeffries is a lawyer in Charleston. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.