Reform bill may simplify teacher hiring process
03/14/2013 - Charleston Daily Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Get those No. 2 pencils ready; here comes a math problem.
Two teachers apply for the same job. They have the same degrees and certifications, but one teacher has been working in the profession for 15 years. The other candidate has worked as an educator for only two years.
So, which teacher will get the job?
It actually has little to do with arithmetic.
There are two sets of hiring criteria at work in West Virginia's school systems. One set of criteria is a seven-point checklist, used when teachers already working in a county apply for another job there.
Seniority receives just as much weight as other factors in this set of criteria, including teachers' total years of experience, their certifications and educational backgrounds.
But seniority is not transferable in West Virginia. When an educator switches counties, his or her seniority resets to zero.
"It doesn't transfer across counties," said Rick Hicks, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators. "Someone within the county would have a leg up over someone from outside the county."
That means a teacher with two years of experience working in Kanawha County Schools likely would beat out a Boone County teacher with 15 years of experience if both were applying for a job in Kanawha.
The second set of criteria is used only when no teachers from within a county apply for a job there.
Since seniority is not an issue, it doesn't factor into the hiring process.
Hicks said that second set of criteria gives counties more flexibility in other ways, too. Hiring committees can look at teachers' college grade point averages and results of previous evaluations. Hicks said schools could even ask candidates to present sample lessons to get a feel for their teaching styles.
Under the second set of criteria, that 15-year veteran educator likely would get the job . . . as long as the two-year teacher was not more qualified.
"Years of experience to me do not necessarily equate to the more qualified candidate," said Barbara Brazeau, director of personnel for Putnam County Schools.
"You have to look at evaluations. I know people who have lots of years of experience, now retired, and they weren't all that great."
School administrators admit these dual hiring systems are confusing and "clear as mud."
But a bill currently working its way through the state Senate would significantly simplify the process.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill would eliminate the first set of criteria altogether. It then would add seniority to that second list of criteria and allow local school systems to determine how much it matters in the hiring process.
"At the end of the day, we want faculty and principals to have more of a say," said Hallie Mason, Tomblin's public policy director.
Mason pointed out the bill would not allow teachers to transfer seniority between counties.
She said counties also would not be allowed to throw seniority completely out the window, according to previous rulings by the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board.
"It's got to be a reasonable standard," she said.
Still, Brazeau said the revamped hiring process would be a significant improvement over the current system. She said teachers with more seniority are not always the most qualified.
"I just think you have to look at the whole picture," she said.
As personnel director, Brazeau does not personally interview prospective teachers. Her job is to winnow the applications - usually to the top three to five candidates - who then are interviewed by a hiring committee at the school.
While that is the procedure currently prescribed by state law, Hicks said it creates a big problem for schools.
"It limits options," he said. "Quite frankly, under the current system . . . you can decide who's going to be your next teacher without even having an interview. There's nothing in the factors that look at demonstration of knowledge. It's just a checklist."
State teachers unions are vehemently opposed to the measure, however, and have repeatedly asked lawmakers to strike it from the bill.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the state's dual sets of hiring criteria are working.
He said education reform advocates are using seniority transferability as a red herring to garner support for the legislation.
"They play games with it. That's why we have to insist on a weighting system," he said. "They're going to tell you that's a problem because they can't hire a teacher of the year from North Carolina over somebody already in the system.
"That's a rarity. That teacher of the year from North Carolina might not get 'School A,' but you're going to open up a position."
Lee said if the state's current hiring practices are changed, the number of grievances filed against school systems would skyrocket.
But Hicks said the governor's proposed changes do not mean the most senior teachers wouldn't get the positions.
He said the change also would not increase nepotism and cronyism, as some opponents have suggested, because there is much more transparency in the state school system thanks to the Office of Education Performance Audits.
The governor's education reform bill is set to go before the Senate Finance Committee this morning and could reach the full Senate by the end of the week.