Teacher hiring changes approved

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Board of Education members unanimously approved an overhaul of how teachers are hired at schools throughout West Virginia on Thursday, but teacher groups were still concerned that nepotism could sneak into the hiring process.The new rule lays out nine criteria to be used when hiring teachers -- but those criteria don't need to be considered if a school's principal and faculty senate and the county superintendent all agree on whom to hire."Teachers always say, 'You hold us accountable, but we have no input to who we hire,' well those days are over," said Lloyd Jackson, a state school board member and former state senator. "This is a substantial sea change in the way that we hire people in West Virginia, perhaps the most substantial sea change in the history of the state."Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's wide-ranging education reform law passed by the Legislature this spring required the Board of Education to establish a teacher hiring rule by July 1.The bill passed Thursday will not be finalized until after that deadline, as it now will be open to 30 days of public comment.Board of Education staff members were working with groups representing teachers to tinker with the rule and iron out their differences until just before the board voted late Thursday afternoon.The teachers groups were still concerned that if a school's principal and faculty senate agree, and no other criteria is necessary, that could defeat a key goal of the law -- bringing objective, definable standards to hiring. "We feel like that part of the law has been taken out of context and really stretched to the limit," said Christine Campbell, the president of the state branch of the American Federation of Teachers. "The way I read it, it looks like they don't have to give any weight to any factor at any time."The rule instructs principals and faculty senates to consider each of the nine criteria, but they are not required to assign any weight to the factors and may decide not to use any of the factors."They don't have to base their selection on any criteria and that was not the intent of the agreement of the bill," said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. "Teachers will work diligently to make sure that the most qualified person is the person they recommend, but there's always going to be an instance when pressure comes on them to not recommend the most qualified."When asked what those instances would be, Lee responded, "Well, nepotism."
Although they still had had problems with the rule, both teachers groups conceded that the newest version was better than previous ones.Campbell said they appreciated the chance to be heard, but thought their suggestions did not show up in the rule. She called an earlier version of the rule a "slap in the face" that violates stipulations laid out in the education law. She implied a possible lawsuit in threatening to challenge the rule "by whatever means necessary."The nine hiring criteria are appropriate licenses, experience, educational level, academic achievement, specialized training, national board certification, past performance evaluations, seniority and other appropriate measures.Another point of dispute was how teachers on faculty senates are compensated for interviewing candidates.
The rule allows teachers to be paid for up to two hours of work, at their regular rate, for conducting interviews. If there are four or more candidates to be interviewed, teachers can be paid for up to three hours of interviews."If you're giving teachers the professionalism to do this, you're devaluing them by limiting the time that they put into the interview process," Lee said.Jackson said they had to balance the interests of counties in limiting their costs with the teachers who may not want to participate in the hiring process if they're not compensated."We tried to balance," Jackson said. "I guarantee probably neither side is happy right now."In addition to Jackson, the state Board of Education's other voting members are Wade Linger, Gayle Manchin, William White, Tom Campbell, Robert Dunlevy, Mike Green and Tina Combs.Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.
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