- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia’s public education system is working toward a tighter focus on student academic achievement on the local level.

The state Board of Education on Thursday discussed merging some positions and financial responsibilities in county school districts in order to help smaller counties that have limited cash and resources.

State school board President Gayle Manchin said eight Regional Education Service Agencies could assume responsibilities such as payroll and tracking of student attendance, according to media outlets.

Manchin said the board isn’t looking to strip the authority of local school boards, “but maybe we can move some of these tasks to the RESA level.”

“The financial drain is every county having a central office,” she said.

The Legislature created the RESAs in 1972. The eight offices were assigned to help the counties in their districts apply for grants and pool their purchasing power. Their duties also have included training staff and keeping computers running.

A group formed last year as part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s comprehensive education bill is examining ways to make county school systems more efficient. The group, called the Commission on School District Governance and Administration, plans to meet Sept. 30.

The commission is chaired by state school board member Tom Campbell. He said the group’s final report will include short- and long-term strategies.

“The recommendations will shift the focus of the entire public education system in the Mountain State so the attention is on heightening student achievement,” Campbell said.

But some school board members are concerned about how smaller county school systems would fare with any proposed changes.

“Let’s assume we do get boards totally focused on academics,” state school board member Lloyd Jackson said. “Some boards are becoming so small, they just can’t provide the services they might need to support it. I worry about leaving it to the school boards to decide the academic functions - not that they couldn’t do it in the right system.”

Commission consultant Thomas Alsbury said management-type responsibilities are very time consuming for local school systems.

He said research has shown that “local boards that can focus on instructional improvement and are looking for bold progress in student achievement are much more successful, and those who focus on management issues are less successful.”

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