Justice takes aim at education bureaucracy in inaugural address

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Justice takes aim at education bureaucracy in inaugural address
By Alex Thomas, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In his inaugural address Monday, Gov. Jim Justice announced a plan to cut bureaucracy in education, which he said has grown tremendously in spite of declining enrollment rates.

“In 1980, we had 130 bureaucrats looking over 500,000 students,” Justice said. “Today, we have half as many students and ten times as many bureaucrats looking over them. How can it possibly be? How can it possibly work?”

Boone County teacher and President of the Boone County chapter of the American Federation of Teachers Carrena Rouse attended the ceremony, and said she was intrigued by Justice’s proposal.

“I think he is hitting the nail on the head,” Rouse said. “I’m not against administrators. You need good administrators in any organization. But when you have more chiefs than Indians, you have a problem.”

Boone County Public Schools has faced multiple challenges over the past year; in February 2016, the county Board of Education voted to close three elementary schools and eliminate 77 positions within the district. The board voted in July 2016 to cut $6 million in teacher salaries and health care benefits in order to prevent a takeover by the state Department of Education. The school system also had 40 unfilled vacancies at the start of this school year because of those cuts.

Rouse said the district will likely face more cuts in the future.

“When that money at that level drains off all the money you would pay to keep new teachers in the classroom, it says something,” Rouse said.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael was impressed with Justice’s plan to eliminate unneeded jobs as well as waste and fraud.

“It’s tough to root that stuff out, and we, the Legislature, will help him in every way possible to do that,” Carmichael said.

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead said he was happy to see Justice attack “top heavy” education bureaucracy.

“We have good teachers, good principals,” Armstead said. “They just need to have the ability to go into the classroom, into these schools, and lead.”

Justice also came out in favor of increasing teacher pay and said he was open to ideas from outside of state government.

“Do you know we have 600 classrooms in this state that we can’t even field a teacher?” Justice asked the ceremony’s attendees.

Rouse said Justice was inspiring during his campaign for governor, adding his optimism caught the attention of one of her students during a visit at the Madison Civic Center.

“When she left, she said, “He is our hope,'” Rouse said. “This is a little 10th grader, 16 year old. I was like, ‘Wow.'”

Justice said he will submit his plan for review “immediately.”