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State board of education votes again to fire Marple

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Board of Education fired Jorea Marple again Thursday and decided to conduct a national search for her replacement as state superintendent.

The meeting lasted more than five hours, about half of which was held behind closed doors. More than 50 people packed the room and hallway, with nearly 20 addressing the board in favor of Marple.

At least five Capitol Police officers responded to the scene when there was a near confrontation between an attendee and board member William White. Shouts, scoffs and laughs met a variety of statements from the board.

In a prepared statement, Board President Wade Linger apologized for any mistakes he might have made during the last two weeks and said he now understands why people don't want to serve in state government. After the meeting he declined comment, but in passing called his statement a "mea culpa," or acceptance of blame.  

White said he thought the meeting went very well.

"Hopefully this meeting went a long way in healing some of the rifts that have come up over the last couple of weeks between the board and our general public," White said. 

It was the second time the board has fired Marple in the last 14 days. Following claims the original move was made behind closed doors and perhaps illegally, the board called the special meeting expressly to discuss Marple's termination and how it would proceed with finding a new state superintendent if necessary.

After a closed-door session that lasted a little less than two hours, the board voted again on Marple's firing.

"As president of the board, it is my position that it is no longer the will of the board to retain Dr. Marple as superintendent, and I recommend her termination and replacement," Linger said.

Board member Mike Green made the motion and White seconded it. Board members White, Green, Linger, Lloyd Jackson, Bob Dunlevy and Gayle Manchin voted in favor of the firing.

As they did before, board members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips voted against.

No board members in attendance at the Nov. 15 meeting changed their votes Thursday. Jackson was not at the first meeting; after Thursday's session, he echoed statements that it was time for a change in leadership.

Marple's firing caused a stir in the education community. The item was not listed on the Nov. 15 agenda, and Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm, filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court arguing the board knowingly violated open meetings laws.

Linger expressly cited concerns about the Open Meetings Act in a Nov. 20 statement. In the statement, Linger said "it is paramount that the public voice continues to be heard."

More than 50 people packed the boardroom Thursday, with more crammed in the hallway and watching the proceedings near the building elevators via an Internet video connection. Of the 20 people who spoke, none said they were in favor of the way the board handled Marple's firing.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, and Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, called on the board to either reinstate Marple or state specifically why she was fired.

Several retired teachers, including Judy Robinson of Raleigh County and Julian Martin of Charleston, said board members' actions harmed the integrity of the board.

Robinson said the way the board fired Marple made West Virginia again the butt of national jokes, and Martin said the move was "Joe Manchin's revenge on Darrell McGraw." Currently a U.S. senator, Joe Manchin appointed most of the current board members when he was governor.

Marple is married to McGraw, the outgoing state attorney general. Some have alleged Manchin had something to do with Marple's firing, an accusation Manchin, his wife and Linger have denied.

Without mentioning Sen. Manchin, White said after the meeting that it's hurtful for the Board of Education to be considered a "rubber stamp" for anything.

"It really does become somewhat hurtful when somebody talks about an organization such as this, with as much influence as it does, as being a rubber stamp," White said. "I've never been a rubber stamp to anything, as you know. This board doesn't want to be perceived as a rubber stamp as well."

White worked as a senior administrator at Mountain State University, which recently lost its accreditation. He also helped its ex-president, Charles Polk, write a book on leadership. 

Marple has repeatedly said she did not know why she was fired. She told the Daily Mail Wednesday she still had not been given a reason. She did not return a message left for her late Thursday.

Linger said the board appreciated the public comments. He then called for an executive session to discuss Marple's termination. Groans could be heard from the public when the suggestion was made. 

After coming back from the executive session and voting to fire Marple again, Linger read a statement.

"Providing the reasons for any termination often runs afoul of advice and caution . . . given from the counsel," Linger said during the meeting. "Nonetheless, it is our duty to be as open as possible with the public."

He then listed a "litany" of statistics related to West Virginia student achievement.

West Virginia students trail most states in National Assessment of Education Progress measures, with those scores decreasing in the last decade. The publication "Education Week" recently gave West Virginia an "F" in K-12 achievement. The statewide graduation rate is less than 80 percent, and one in four high school students doesn't graduate on time.

These are concerns for everyone in the state, he said, and everyone is frustrated by those results. But they don't necessarily have anything to do with Marple's performance, he said.

"We are not saying that Superintendent Marple is any more responsible than governors, legislators, educators or board members for these shortcomings," Linger said.

"We are not here to affix blame today. However, we are charged with the general supervision of schools in West Virginia, and we think the people of West Virginia deserve to have these problems fixed," he said.

There were other reasons board members thought it was time for a change, he said. The department lacked a sense of urgency in addressing these problems, he said. Board members heard excuses or that things could not change instead of solutions, he said. When the board challenged current practices, people were often defensive, he said.

"I hope for everyone who says nobody has told us why, I've now told you some of the reasons why," Linger said after reading the statement.

A resounding "no" came from the crowd at the meeting. After a short break to review the statement, the board voted to make it its official stance on Marple's firing. 

It is unclear how the board could vote to fire Marple again; it already voted to fire her Nov. 15, and took no formal action to rehire her as superintendent or in any other capacity.

 "Since there is a pending petition in the Supreme Court, it would be inappropriate to address your questions at this time," said department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro in an email late Thursday.

"(Friday) we will file a response to the petition which will contain the board's position," she continued, in reference to the suit filed by Mountain State Justice. 

Department of education attorney Heather Hutchens declined to comment. The state Supreme Court required the board respond to the suit by today.

New superintendent

The board addressed finding a new superintendent, an issue that also has caused some commotion.

Within hours of firing Marple the first time, the board held a special meeting. Linger suggested hiring James Phares, currently the superintendent of Randolph County Schools, as the new state superintendent.

The board eventually appointed then-deputy superintendent Chuck Heinlein as superintendent, postponing any further discussion until Nov. 23.

Phares previously told the Inter-Mountain of Elkins he planned to resign and would accept the position of state superintendent if offered. After the state board moved its discussion of the position from the Nov. 23 meeting to Thursday, he did not resign.

He told the Daily Mail Wednesday he was on his way to Charleston for Thursday's meeting. He said he didn't know what would happen, but he was excited. He also said there's an agenda item concerning his resignation for Monday's meeting of the Randolph County Board of Education.

After a closed session that lasted roughly an hour, Linger announced the board would conduct a national search for a new superintendent.

Although Phares said he was "in the vicinity" of Thursday's board meeting, he never entered the room. 

"I was waiting for a call, and they obviously said they weren't going to need me today," Phares said Thursday in a phone interview.

He said he understood the board's decision and it was not a surprise. He said the decision would affect the Randolph County Board of Education meeting Monday but didn't elaborate. When asked if he would still resign at that meeting, he said he hadn't thought about it yet.

During the meeting Linger said the board also should consider the job requirements for a new state superintendent during its national search. He suggested the board reconsider the specifics of the search in December.

The search for a permanent superintendent could take a long time, he said.

"I think we're looking at a longer time period than we want to go without a serious leader in that seat," Linger said, quickly adding he thinks Heinlein is a serious leader.

Right now Heinlein is the superintendent, because it is illegal under state law to go without one or even to have an interim superintendent, White said. But, considering that a national search could take a long time, White said the board will look to hire someone as the "short-term superintendent" until a full-time superintendent is found.

White said hiring a "short term" superintendent would be on the board agenda for the Dec. 13 meeting.

Phares is still a candidate for that position or for permanent superintendent, White said. Jackson said the board wants to search far and wide for a full-time superintendent, but that person could be in West Virginia.

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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