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Ousted schools superintendent still paid between firings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state is paying former state Superintendent Jorea Marple $4,489 to cover the two weeks between her first and second firings.

Marple was not superintendent during that time, and the state Board of Education didn't publicly discuss or vote on the decision to make that payment.

"I believe it was made by the lawyers," board President Wade Linger said Friday in a phone interview.  

Marple received $4,489 from the department in pay for Nov. 16-29, according to state records. The payment was made because of a "new vote to terminate employment."

On Nov. 15 the board voted 5-2 to fire Marple. She was to vacate her office by the close of business that day.

The next day the department sent $4,833 to Marple as final pay for Nov. 1-Nov. 15, according to state records. Her salary was $167,000 a year.

Marple's surprise firing outraged many members of the education community, with some calling for more openness by the board and questioning whether the action was done legally.

Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm, on Nov. 21 asked the state Supreme Court to find that the board had violated the Open Meetings Act.

Marple's termination was not listed on the agenda for the Nov. 15 board meeting. When legal counsel advised Linger that the board should take no action without notifying the public in advance, he said he would take his chances, according to Mountain State Justice's lawsuit.

The Supreme Court called for the board's response by Friday. Last Tuesday or Wednesday the office of the state Attorney General appointed the law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe to represent the board, Linger said.

The firm compiled the board's response to the Mountain State Justice allegations and submitted it to the high court late Friday. The document states the board does not believe it violated any laws in firing Marple Nov. 15, but if others perceive a possible violation, then a meeting this past Thursday cleared up those concerns.

Twenty people addressed the board over two hours on Thursday. Most spoke in favor of Marple, and all questioned the way in which she was fired. After the public comment portion of the meeting, the board gathered behind closed doors for nearly 90 minutes. Then it returned to open session and again voted to fire Marple.

Following the meeting, Linger said the attorneys said it was a good idea to pay Marple for the period between the two meetings, and he agreed.

"We don't think we did anything wrong on the 15th, but at some point if somebody said that we did, we wanted to make sure we cleared that up," Linger said.

"The other part of making it right is to make sure that if we were wrong, then Dr. Marple would have been paid for those two weeks. And we wanted to make sure we covered that side, too," he continued.  

Victor Flanagan, one of the attorneys representing the board, confirmed the attorneys involved made the decision. The board is still adamant it did not violate the law during the Nov. 15 meeting, and the decision to pay Marple is not an admission of wrongdoing, Flanagan said.

Saying it was better to "err on the side of caution," Flanagan thought it was a good idea to pay Marple now just in case a court were to eventually determine the board had violated the law during the first meeting.

The news that Marple was to be paid came as a surprise to board member Jenny Phillips.

"The board has not approved that, that I know of, and I have not gotten any emails from the department at all," Phillips said Friday afternoon in a telephone interview.

The board worked with the state Ethics Commission to write its agenda for the Thursday meeting, Linger said. A 2005 commission opinion allows a public agency to remedy potential Open Meetings concerns by essentially conducting the same meeting publicly in a way that is not ceremonial or "perfunctory."

After having the second meeting, listening to public comment about Marple, voting to fire her again and discussing some of the reasons the board was ready to move in a new direction, not paying Marple for the two-week period would have been a "half measure," Linger said.

"It's just a logical thing; it seemed logical to me. And I think that the lawyers agreed," Linger said.

Marple was officially removed from the state payroll following the Nov. 15 vote, said Justin Southern, spokesman for Auditor Glen Gainer, on Friday. At some point between Nov. 16 and Nov. 30 the department sent the auditor's office a document that returned Marple to the payroll, Southern said.

Linger said he did not know the particulars of the payment procedure, but he's sure the board and department acted properly.

"I think it was the right thing to do. I'm not sure what the official approval process is, but I'm confident that it was followed," Linger said.

Marple's most recent payment was processed Friday and was on its way to her in the form of a check or direct deposit, according to state records. Marple did not return a message left Sunday.

Chuck Heinlein, formerly the deputy superintendent, was appointed superintendent hours after Marple was fired the first time. The board wants to conduct a national search for a long-term superintendent.

A department spokesperson declined comment, citing litigation.

Staff writer Ry Rivard contributed to this article.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843, or on Twitter  at @Dave_Boucher1.


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