HAMLIN, W.Va. -- The state Board of Education wants to eliminate certain job requirements for the state superintendent's position.
The move would allow more candidates to apply for the role, but it's going to take legislative action to make that happen. In a marathon meeting Wednesday at Lincoln County High School in Hamlin, board members voted to ask the Legislature to remove the requirements.
Board member Lloyd Jackson was particularly vocal in advocating for the change: not only does it give the board more control in the hiring process; it also allows candidates who could do the job but might not meet qualifications to apply.
"Hospitals figured out a long time ago the best doctor didn't always make the best administrators," Jackson said.
There is a specific section of state code that addresses the qualifications of state superintendent. The portion that tripped up board members states a person must have a master's degree in Education Administration, "recognized ability" as a school administrator and at least five years of experience in public school work.
There are people in the state who would make excellent superintendents, having devoted their lives to education, who cannot apply because they do not meet that criteria, Jackson said. Board member Mike Green also trumped the idea of giving the board more control over its own hiring practices.
For example, code sets a ceiling for the amount of money the board can pay a superintendent. He asked whether it would require a code change to pay someone even a dollar more.
Jackson and other board members argued changing the requirements would make the job more appealing to a broader candidate pool, justifying the potential cost of a national search. If the Legislature does not change the code though, he questioned whether the board would get the bang for its buck from the national search.
After serving on The College Board committee to replace outgoing head and former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, Jackson said he had learned a great deal about what goes in to a national search.
Board member Priscilla Haden had questions of her own.
She said she thought a national search could cost anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000, and wondered where the board would get that money. Superintendent Chuck Heinlein said the funds would come from the Office of Legal Services. Green and fellow board member William White said cost should not be the top concern.
Time, however, is a concern for board members.
It could take months for the Legislature to act on the request, Jackson said. In the case that it does change code, then finding a national search firm and actually conducting the search will also take time, he and other board members argued. If the legislature doesn't change the law, then it could take more time to discuss whether a national search is necessary or further board action, Jackson argued.
The board cited this time in moving into discussions for hiring a new state superintendent. Although it cannot hire an interim superintendent, at a previous meeting board President Wade Linger said the board wants a "more serious" superintendent than Heinlein.
He quickly said Heinlein, formerly the deputy superintendent, was a serious leader.
On Nov. 15 the board voted to fire Superintendent Jorea Marple. The move resulted in outcry from many in the education community and a lawsuit alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Act. The board held a meeting Nov. 29 to clear up any such concerns, although it denies any wrongdoing. It voted to fire Marple again at that meeting.
After that same meeting White said the board would probably vote Wednesday to hire a "short-term" superintendent before one is eventually hired through the national search. Haden said she thought this idea might have influenced some candidates to decline nominations.
She said she spoke to three people in particular -- Monongalia County Superintendent Frank Devono, Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring and Wood County's Pat Law -- all of whom declined.
She said Devono declined because he couldn't afford to make the change, Duerring did not provide a reason, and Law said "circumstances were not ideal at this time."
She thought at least one of them might want to eventually apply for the job when it is posted for the national search, and thought applying now could hurt one's chances in the long run. Although board member Gayle Manchin said she thought that was generally correct, Linger said at no time was that made an official part of the hiring process.
In the end, two people were nominated: Kathy D'Antoni, an assistant state superintendent, and Jim Phares, superintendent of Randolph County Schools. Heinlein was also nominated, but declined in hopes of returning to superintendent.
Hours after voting to fire Marple the first time, Linger nominated Phares. The board eventually voted to have a national search, but Phares was invited back to the Nov. 29 meeting in case the board decided to hire him then.
D'Antoni and Phares were in attendance Wednesday. D'Antoni said she knew she was going to be nominated, and that she was excited for the chance to be superintendent.
"I'm very passionate about education ... I think we have outstanding students, outstanding young people," D'Antoni said. "I would like to see us move quickly to correct the deficiencies." After eating dinner and attending a choral performance, the board voted to go behind closed doors to discuss interview questions.
It entered executive session at 5:35 p.m. It was slated to hire a new superintendent Wednesday, but did not do so before deadline.