Board Prepares Audit Response

CHARLESTON (AP) – The West Virginia Board of Education is preparing its response to a wide-ranging audit of the state’s education system and President Wade Linger says his top priority is increasing student achievement.

West Virginia’s graduation rate is 78 percent and one in four high school students does not graduate on time, Linger said in a press release.

He also cited a recent report by Education Week that gave West Virginia an F in K-12 achievement.

“These are statistics that must be turned around,” Linger said.

Linger said the board and the Department of Education also should focus on three other primary areas: revitalize the connection with local school systems and build mutual trust; commit to change and transparency as they move forward on reforms; and improve communication between the board, the department, the Governor’s Office, the Legislature and teacher unions.

Board members have scheduled a special meeting Wednesday regarding the audit, which was commissioned by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The wide-ranging review describes a low-performing education system rigidly controlled by a state-level bureaucracy and a thick stack of policy-directing laws. It lists more than 100 recommendations to improve student performance while saving an estimated $70 million annually.

“I look forward to the release of the West Virginia Board of Education’s audit response on Wednesday. A healthy discussion can be expected regarding significant education reform proposals,” Linger said.

Wednesday’s meeting comes less than a week after the board voted 5-2 to fire state Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple. Board members Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden opposed the decision and announced they will resign.

Phillips said Marple was working on implementing many of the audit’s recommendations.

“A lot of the things in the audit required legislative changes, but she had already accepted (the idea) to reorganize the department as suggested. She had made a lot of starts,” Phillips said. “They say now is the time to change leadership. I have no idea what that means. It seems to me that this is the worst time for change.”

Deputy Superintendent Charles Heinlein was appointed interim superintendent. Linger said last week that he wants Randolph County Schools Superintendent James Phares for the job.