The Kanawha County Board of Education voted Monday to jettison the scoring rubric the school system had used to rank applicants for principal and other education administrator jobs.
The school board also approved repeals of and revisions to about 30 other policies, half of which haven’t been altered since their creation in 1975. These other changes received virtually no public comments, the school system’s general counsel said.
The board also gave the school system approval to post seven new positions for applicants: an operations coordinator, maintenance coordinator, fleet services supervisor, facilities and maintenance director, facility maintenance district foreman, energy management/engineering specialist and a communications specialist.
In 2016, the board hired its first communications director in 17 years. The new communications specialist would be in addition to that director.
Superintendent Tom Williams said the new positions, several meant to improve school maintenance or save on architecture and engineering fees, would be funded through COVID-19 federal relief dollars in the first three years. He said the school system will have to decide whether to keep the positions after that.
He said a couple of the advertised positions might not actually be hired if Kanawha attracts candidates that can fill multiple roles. The board will make the final decision on whether to ultimately hire for these positions.
According to the state Department of Education, Kanawha’s school system will get $82 million from the American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed, atop the tens of millions more the school system has received or is still receiving from the Trump-era relief packages.
The board gave the OK for the school system to spend up to $2.6 million on equipment for outdoor classrooms, and approved paying $543,000 for five new buses.
Regarding the administrator hiring policy, all references will be removed regarding the amount of points, or weight, given to applicants’ various qualifications. These qualifications include candidates’ specialized training, years of experience, past attendance and college degree level.
The only scoring now left in the policy is for the interview.
In support of erasing the applicant scoring rubric, board member Ric Cavender said “I understand the concept and the value of an in-person interview and what that can bring to the table versus what you may see on paper.”
“I think the bottom line is whoever sits here has to have the support of the board and the confidence of the board to choose the right people for the position,” Williams said.
He added “the board is always a fail safe,” that can approve or reject his recommended hire.
The changes come after the school system lost a court case in November about it hiring Gabe King over Kim Williams as principal of South Charleston High.
King had about one year of experience as an assistant principal, while Williams had been an assistant principal for 14 years. A judge ordered the school system to give Williams the principal job, and it has.
A large part of Williams’ successful argument that she was the most qualified for the job was that she scored highest on the qualification scoring rubric the school system is now ditching. But school officials said there was no connection between that case and the changes.
The previous policy already gave the superintendent the latitude to choose among the top four scoring applicants which one to recommend to the board to hire. The new changes will allow the superintendent to recommend any applicant he or she considers “the most qualified.”
Williams brought up the possibility that a candidate with, for example, significant Advanced Placement experience might rank No. 5 on the rubric, but might still be a good fit for a school that focuses on that.
“If there are 10 people that interview, all 10 people will have an opportunity,” Williams said of the changes.
State law says school boards must hire the “applicant with the highest qualifications” for these positions, and the law includes a list of qualifications that must be considered, including experience, college degree level and specialized training.
But the law also says school boards are “entitled to determine the appropriate weight to apply to each of the criterion,” and boards can include “other measures or indicators upon which the relative qualifications of the applicant may fairly be judged.”
The school system proposed these policy changes in April. The board approved the changes Monday, after a public comment period ended.
The board did make one additional change to the policy Monday that wasn’t proposed in April: requiring that a teacher be part of the interview team.
All votes Monday were unanimous.