CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday removed restrictions from state policy that had prevented teachers from being involved in their school's hiring process during the summer months -- but some say it's too little, too late for this year.The board's amendments allow faculty senates to meet before school starts in August to help with teacher selections and determine a process for hiring alongside school administrators -- part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's call for more local control in his education reform law passed this spring.Now, teachers are being given the go-ahead in the middle of summer -- when the most hiring occurs -- even though they were promised the opportunity to be involved in the hiring process back in March, when the bill first passed."I think the board is a day late and a dollar short. As soon as the bill was passed, they should've started getting their ducks in a row," said Kym Randolph, communications director for the West Virginia Education Association teachers union.This means, if teachers want to be included in the hiring process as soon as possible, they have to announce plans for a meeting two days ahead of time and have at least half of the school's teachers present in order to begin talks of establishing a new process. Some districts in the state begin school in early August, and summer is a difficult time to round teachers up, Randolph said."Let's be honest, by the time the policy gets communicated to faculty senates, school will have already started," she said. "For a school with a large staff, it would be a real challenge to try to give input on a hiring process in time. A lot of schools are doing most of their hiring this week and next week."As part of the education reform bill, the state school board was required to establish a hiring rule for teachers by July 1. At last month's meeting, held June 12, the board was accused of rushing to compile the policy in time to make deadline and not allowing enough time for public comment.
The policy update, unanimously passed by the board in an emergency meeting Wednesday, came in response to backlash from teachers unions that said the original bill created roadblocks for teachers who wanted to participate in any hiring occurring before the commencement of the school year.Christine Campbell, head of the state's branch of the American Federation of Teachers union, said Wednesday she is happy to see the board remove the former restrictions but said the timing is wrong and there's still work to do."Here we are, 17 days into summer, and getting faculty senates together is really difficult," she said. "It just feels to me like every step of this process turned into more bureaucracy and pushing teachers out of what they were given in this bill."Campbell said many schools already had established a hiring process in an attempt to be proactive, but because that happened before July 1, they might need to start from scratch."The intent of this bill was to give teachers input, and to get the best person for that school in the job -- more local control," she said, "but this policy is very specific in what control they can have, and they have to go about getting that control and it's pushed them back."The school board will address other provisions of Policy 5000 -- which includes general hiring criteria for classroom teachers and outlines the role of principals and superintendents in the process -- at its Aug. 14 meeting. "I urge the board to take a thorough look at the public comments submitted on Policy 5000 and make the changes needed to create a policy that provides adequate support and resources for meaningful faculty senate input into the hiring process," Campbell said. "If the policy isn't changed, I'm afraid classrooms are going to suffer the consequences of hasty state bureaucracy once again."Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.