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Board president seeks review of education contracts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Wade Linger, president of the state Board of Education, wants an independent review of all existing contracts or agreements in use by the board or the state Department of Education.

He will ask the board today during its regular monthly meeting to approve that review, according to a news release.

"I believe it is important to confirm that the bidding and purchasing practices are free from political pressure or individual interest," he continued.

Allegations of political pressure and individual interests in state contracts arose after the recent firing of Jorea Marple from her post as state superintendent.

The board voted to fire Marple on Nov. 15, a move met with shock by many in the education community. The board did not list the move on its agenda and did not discuss the action in public before it was taken.

Within days, Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm filed a legal challenge with the state Supreme Court alleging the board had knowingly violated the state Open Meetings act.

In its response filed with the high court, the board states it did not violate any laws during its first meeting. However, it said any open-meeting issues were addressed at a Nov. 29 meeting during which Marple again was fired.

In its own response to the Nov. 29 meeting, Mountain State Justice stated that Marple was fired for her refusal to skip proper bidding processes and award contracts that may have benefited board members.

Bren Pomponio, an attorney for Mountain State Justice, later said agreements connected to the computer program Globaloria and nonprofit AmberVision played a role in her ouster.

No evidence has been cited so far that shows any board member personally benefited from the board's or department's connection with either Globaloria or AmberVision.

Pomponio declined to comment further on Tuesday.

No specific contracts are mentioned in the Tuesday press release. However, Linger states that he wants to confirm the board and department are meeting or exceeding the requirements needed for any bidding or contract practices.

"I believe that it is extremely important for county boards of education, county administrators, teachers, students, parents and taxpayers to have confidence that the West Virginia Board of Education and the Department of Education are following the rules and regulations put in place by our legislators," Linger said in the release.

If the board approves Linger's suggestion, he will ask the West Virginia State Bar to look for and recommend an attorney with no connection to the state to conduct the review. The person chosen will have an understanding of state contract and bidding practices, will evaluate current board and department practices and provide guidance for future contracts, according to the release.

The review could take four months to complete, the release states. It does not mention when the examiner would start or how much the process would cost.

The item is not listed on the board's agenda for today's meeting and was not mentioned during a Monday meeting devoted to discussing the agenda.

Linger did not return a phone call Tuesday evening.

The board also may interview and vote to hire Marple's replacement today. Although former Deputy Superintendent Chuck Heinlein was appointed superintendent, the board wants someone else in the position while it conducts a national search.

Jim Phares, current superintendent in Randolph County, already has been recommended by Linger as a candidate. He said Monday he would attend today's meeting.

The meeting is slated to start at 10:30 a.m. in the media center of Lincoln County High School in Hamlin.

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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