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Marple says she's still ‘stunned’ over firing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Fourteen days after Jorea Marple was fired as state superintendent, it's still all she can think about.

"I think it's safe to say that I was stunned and remain stunned, and I'm trying to work on basic things like being able to eat and sleep again," Marple said Wednesday in a phone interview.

She said she's tried not to think about the state Board of Education's decision, but that has proven impossible.

It's proven impossible for many others across the state as well, including board members.

The board is slated to reconsider its decision to fire Marple in a 10 a.m. meeting today, following accusations of acting illegally and in secrecy.  

On Nov. 15, board members voted 5-2 to dismiss Marple from the position she had occupied since March 2011. The vote blindsided many in the education community, including Marple, and caused dissenting board members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips to announce their intentions to resign in protest.

Minutes after her firing, Marple told the Daily Mail she had no idea why she was removed. She suggested the vote could have been political or a reaction to her stance on the current funding model for public education.

Others have speculated it could have had something to do with her stance on the recommendations of an audit of the state's public school system.

On Wednesday, she said she still had no idea why she was fired.

"I think I stated it from the very first time I saw you, they gave me no reason, other than I guess what I read in the paper, that they want to change the direction," Marple said.

She hasn't spoken with any of the board members who voted to fire her since Nov. 15. Haden and Phillips called her briefly to see how she was doing, a gesture Marple said she appreciated.

Haden confirmed she spoke with Marple on Saturday.

"She said she thought her national reputation has been ruined, and certainly her state reputation," Haden said. "That's a terrible thing to happen to anybody."

Marple said she has heard from "hundreds of people" and she appreciates their kindness and support. Her children and other family members came to Charleston for the Thanksgiving holiday, but she didn't elaborate on what else she has done since she was fired.

She is still not ready to discuss her plans for the future.

"No, I just, no, I'm not there. My life has been about children, and about teachers. I want for all kids in West Virginia what I've been able to provide for my children, and that's what everybody wants," Marple said.

The decision to reconsider came after some questioned whether Marple's firing was legal. The item was not listed on the Nov. 15 meeting agenda, but board member William White told the Daily Mail the board discussed Marple's position during a lengthy closed-door session that day.

Members of the public will be able to comment this time around.

Marple said she knew there was a meeting scheduled for this morning, but she does not plan to attend. She didn't want to talk about it.

Theresa Kirk, head of the state Ethics Commission, has not said whether the board violated the Open Meetings Act. However, she previously told the Daily Mail public boards are generally not allowed to add new items to an agenda during the middle of a meeting.

A lawsuit filed Nov. 21 with the state Supreme Court alleges the board knowingly violated the law.

Filed on the behalf of two parents by Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm, the lawsuit states board President Wade Linger was advised by an attorney that the board's actions were illegal. After speaking with the attorney, Linger said he would take his chances, according to the lawsuit.

The court gave the Board of Education until Friday to respond to the lawsuit. Department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said she did not think the board had responded as of Wednesday, but it planned to do so on Friday.

No one on the board or at the department has said Marple's firing violated any laws, and Linger has declined to comment about the situation since the lawsuit was filed. A message left Wednesday with Linger was not returned.

The day before the lawsuit was filed, Linger issued a statement saying he had been "advised by counsel that there may be concerns over the Open Meetings Act . . ." In the same statement he formally announced there would be a meeting today to revisit Marple's firing.

A 2005 Ethics Commission opinion provides public agencies the opportunity for a do-over in cases where the agency could have violated the Open Meetings act, Kirk said during a different interview with the Daily Mail.

The opinion states any illegal action by a board could be rectified "if a governing body takes reasonable remedial measures over and above ceremonial and perfunctory ratification of the official action previously taken."

Today's agenda also includes consideration of hiring a new superintendent and the "oath of office." Cordeiro previously told the Daily Mail the oath was included just in case the board decided to hire a new superintendent.

Within hours of the board's original vote to fire Marple, Linger suggested hiring Jim Phares as her replacement. Phares is currently Randolph County superintendent. Although Linger moved to vote on Phares' hiring the same day Marple was fired, the board eventually decided to put the matter off until a Nov. 23 meeting. They named Deputy Superintendent Chuck Heinlein to head the department in the interim.

The Nov. 23 meeting was previously scheduled to discuss the education efficiency audit, and the board eventually decided to push back its discussion of the superintendent until today.  

Phares has said he spoke with Linger before Marple's firing about the state superintendent position. Although he previously told the Inter-Mountain newspaper he planned to resign his position in Randolph County before the Nov. 23 meeting, he did not go through with the action after the state board postponed discussion.

On Wednesday Phares said he was on his way to Charleston and planned to attend today's meeting. He said there might be no need for him to be there, but he was excited about the meeting and would accept the job as superintendent if it was offered.

He also said the Randolph County Board of Education will meet Monday and the "potential acceptance of the resignation of the superintendent" is on the agenda.

Haden said Wednesday she didn't know how today's vote would go, but she previously told the Daily Mail she didn't think anything would change.

"I'm an optimist; I would hope that there would not be a search for a new superintendent," Haden said Wednesday. "I would hope that some members of the board would change their vote."

 Haden said she thought board members needed to talk about why they wanted to fire Marple, for "transparency reasons."

Some - including West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee - have alleged Sen. Joe Manchin had something to do with the ouster. Manchin appointed seven of the eight current board members when he was governor. Among his appointees is his wife, Gayle.

Linger, White, Bob Dunlevy and Mike Green were all appointed by Manchin and all voted to fire Marple. Manchin, a Democrat, also appointed Phillips and Haden, both of whom are Republicans.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appointed the only other current board member, Lloyd Jackson. He was not at the Nov. 15 meeting; he said he had taken his employees and their families to Disney World and was not "ducking the vote." He has since declined to comment as to how he would have voted.

Both Gayle and Joe Manchin have said the senator had nothing to do with the vote, and Linger previously told the Daily Mail that idea was "bull - - -."

Reached by phone Wednesday, Gayle Manchin said she didn't feel comfortable commenting on today's meeting. She declined to comment as to how she would vote.

The meeting will be held in Capitol Building 6, Room 353.

 Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1. ;;;;;;;


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