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Phillips resigns from state board of education

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the two state board of education members who vowed to leave their post following the firing of then-superintendent Jorea Marple has resigned.

Jenny Phillips faxed her letter of resignation to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office Thursday, she said in a phone conversation Friday. 

"I've spent a lot of years on the board and it was not an easy thing to do," Phillips said. "But in the meantime, I really felt that I had made a commitment and that I should stand behind my commitment."

The board voted 5-2 to fire Marple in a surprise move during a November meeting. The item was not listed on the agenda and the superintendent said she was shocked, a feeling echoed by others in the education community.

Immediately following the vote, Phillips and her fellow board member Priscilla Haden - who both voted against the termination -- announced they would resign in protest.

Phillips cited Marple's firing multiple times in the four-paragraph letter she sent the governor.

"Whatever the true reason for their action I may never know, but their action displayed a lack of caring or consideration for Dr. Marple," Phillips wrote.

"She had devoted her life to education and with an illegal action destroyed any further achievement she may have made for children."

Almost immediately after Marple's termination, calls arose for more transparency from the board. Claims were made that members had fired Marple illegally.

Charleston-based public interest law firm Mountain State Justice, on behalf of parents of a Boone County student, filed suit with the state Supreme Court alleging the board knowingly violated the Open Meetings Act with its decision.

The board met again two weeks later, ultimately deciding to fire Marple again. Attorneys for the board don't believe the board did anything illegal in the first place, but if others perceived that it did, the second meeting cleared it of any wrongdoing.

A decision on the matter from the Supreme Court isn't expected until January, board president Wade Linger said during the board's meeting in December.

During that same meeting in late November, the board voted to hire Jim Phares as Marple's replacement. He worked for several years as the superintendent of schools in Randolph County and was nominated by Linger for the superintendent's position the same day Marple was fired.

The board ultimately chose to conduct a national search for its new superintendent, but acknowledged such a hunt would take substantial time to complete.

Though not allowed by code to hire an interim superintendent, the board gave Phares the job with the understanding that he would serve until the conclusion of the broader search, which might not even happen, depending on whether the Legislature decides to change qualifications for the job that are set in code.

Board members also said in December that a national search might not provide enough quality candidates without those changes.

Both Phillips and Haden said in November their resignations would be effective Dec. 31, as they wanted to complete the board's response to the governor's education efficiency audit.

Haden recently told the Daily Mail she still planned to resign.

Phillips was appointed to the board in 2005 to fill a vacant seat, and was reappointed in 2007. Friday she said she has enjoyed her time on the board and will miss the friends she made along the way, but serving takes a great deal of time.

"It's in some ways a relief," Phillips said.

"If you want to be basically true to your commitment to serve on the board, you have a lot of preparation to do and a lot of time that you need to spend and be ready. You can't just walk in there," she continued.

In her letter, she said one of her priorities while on the board was providing for children in "out of home" situations. She asked the board to continue to try and help students in those circumstances.

Phillips said she plans to spend more time at her vacation home in Florida with her husband Bill.

The governor appoints board members for nine-year terms. 

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


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