More people work at the state Department of Education now than a decade ago, despite a sharp drop in student enrollment statewide, personnel data shows.Overall, the department employs 10 more workers at its state Capitol complex office than it did in 1990. The number of administrators, who include coordinators, directors and assistant superintendents, increased by 17.The department?s average employee salary nearly doubled, from $27,200 to $51,600, during the same period, rising twice as fast as the rate of inflation.The personnel increases and salary hikes came as enrollment dropped by 41,000 students across West Virginia.?They should be ashamed,? said Linda Martin, who heads Challenge West Virginia, a small schools advocacy group. ?They?ve added to their numbers and raised salaries while children suffered with longer bus rides, larger classrooms and fewer teachers.?Since state schools Superintendent David Stewart became superintendent two years ago, the Department of Education?s Capitol office has added 15 employees, according to personnel records released and reviewed by the department.?It?s something we definitely need to look at and keep a close watch on,? said Howard Persinger Jr., a state school board member. ?We want to keep those numbers down as best we can.?Department of Education officials say the in-house hiring increases were prompted by a rise in state- and federally-mandated programs that the department must oversee.The department also has hired about a dozen employees for its Office of Technology, which didn?t exist 12 years ago. And the department added administrators to oversee statewide testing and hospitality education programs.?We have to deliver the curriculum no matter how many students we have,? Stewart said. ?We try not to increase staff with state funds. It?s a conscious effort.?The state education employee increases would have been even greater if the numbers included an additional 16 people who work in agencies that spun off from the Department of Education in the 1990s. The state Office of Education Performance Audits, which monitors student performance and inspects schools, employs seven full-time workers. The state School Building Authority, which funds school construction, employs nine people.The state?s eight regional education service agencies, which assist county school systems, also are hiring more people. The service agencies employ 28 more administrators now than they did in the early 1990s, according to personnel data. Overall, the agencies employ 368 people throughout the state.In 1989, the state Legislature and former Gov. Gaston Caperton launched a massive school consolidation initiative, promising to slash administrators, save taxpayers millions of dollars and pump the money into classrooms.But a Sept. 29 Gazette-Mail report showed that county school administrators had bolstered their ranks during the past decade and failed to document the alleged savings.Stewart has said that the increase in school administrators across the state was beyond his control.The state school funding formula pays for fewer administrators every year.But county school boards have used local and federal funds to hire more administrators, according to state personnel data.Last week, Stewart directed Department of Education officials to examine the statewide increase in central office school administrators who don?t work directly with children.?The numbers are right. We just want to explain why there were increases,? said Joe Panetta, executive director of the department?s Office of School Finance. ?Dr. Stewart wants an explanation.?Panetta said his preliminary analysis shows that a 1994 school personnel law change may explain part of the increase.The change, which took effect July 1996, prompted county school boards to reclassify some service workers as professional administrators. About 40 service workers may have been switched from service to professional ranks.To keep up with the 13 percent drop in student enrollment during the past decade, county boards would have had to cut 225 administrators.And even after the classification switch, county school boards hired more administrators, according to personnel data. Central office administrators have jumped by 10 percent since 1996.Panetta said some counties might have been slow to comply with the new personnel law.Counties also may now be hiring employees, such as accountants, into administrative jobs, he said. In the past, those workers were placed in service worker positions.The state Board of Education also has hired more administrators in two of three counties where it seized control of schools.Mingo County now employs six more administrators than it did in 1998 when the state took control, according to personnel data. Lincoln County had one additional central office administrator last spring, following a 1999 state takeover.The state board, however, reduced administrative jobs in Logan County schools during a 1992-97 takeover.The state hired an additional central office administrator, but slashed nine principal jobs after shutting down schools. Overall, Logan school administrators decreased by six.To contact staff writers Eric Eyre and Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.