Audit recommends eliminating RESAs; education officials defend agencies

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Audit recommends eliminating RESAs; education officials defend agencies
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A performance audit from the state Legislative Auditor recommends the state’s eight Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) be eliminated because they aren’t performing in the way they were originally intended.

Legislative Auditor John Sylvia delivered the report to state lawmakers Monday at the state capitol. It makes eight recommendations including eliminating RESAs and bringing the staff under the operation of the state Department of Education. Sylvia said the state department is already doing the work that RESAs are supposed to do.

“The RESA executive directors are paid to oversee programs that are actually overseen and directed by the Department of Education,” he said.

Eliminating 16 RESA positions, eight executive directors and eight chief financial officers, would save the state more than $1.5 million a year, according to the performance audit.

“Is there a continued need for RESA?” Sylvia asked. “(The performance audit) finds there is a continued need for the regional service purpose but this purpose should emanate from regional staff not from regional agencies.”

The audit found that although by law technical assistance to low performing schools and professional staff development are RESAs most important responsibilities very little time and money are spent on those two areas. Instead, according to the audit, 25 percent of RESA expenditures in fiscal year 2015 were spent on adult education, Public Service Training and workforce development programs.

State School Board President Mike Green defended the RESAs when he addressed lawmakers Monday.

“Let it very clear that we do not agree with many of their (legislature auditors) findings, conclusions or recommendations,” he said.

But Green later admitted by trying to be all things to all people the RESAs have possibly lost their focus.

“RESAs perhaps have been distracted and even removed focus from school improvement and student achievement,” Green said. “The performance audit initiates discussion on how RESAs can get refocused but questions remain on how to best accomplish this mission.”

RESA 6 Executive Director Nick Zervos, representing the eight RESA executive directors, delivered a 12-page report to lawmakers Monday pointing out what they believe to be the inaccuracies of the audit along with six pages of rebuttal. Zervos told lawmakers other audits have praised the work of the RESAs.

“The RESAs do not understand how this report can turn what has historically been a positive for our low delivery cost for technical assistance and professional development into a negative,” Zervos said.

Auditor Sylvia said eliminating the autonomous RESAs and putting the effort under the state Department of Education would accomplish the goals originally set out for RESAs at a cheaper price.

“What remains is simpler, more focused regional service purpose that is for the most part already overseen by the DOE (Department of Education) and that does not need executive directors or chief financial officers,” Sylvia said.