WV Board of Education reaffirms Marple firing - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV Board of Education reaffirms Marple firing

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Board Member Priscilla Haden said she doesn't know if she will reconsider her resignation. Board Member Priscilla Haden said she doesn't know if she will reconsider her resignation.
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Two weeks after the West Virginia Board of Education voted in a surprise move to fire state Superintendent Jorea Marple, board members revisited the subject in a Nov. 29 meeting, where members maintained their decision to change direction.

The board also changed direction in its decision to recommend a new superintendent.

After coming out of its second executive session of a six-hour meeting, President Wade Linger said the board had not reached a decision on what to do with the vacant position.

However, members approved a motion to conduct a nationwide search to fill the vacancy, instead of the board's original intention to recommend the hiring of Dr. James Phares, the Randolph County superintendent.

The board decided to revisit the issue in December to discuss the issue further. Until then, however, assistant state superintendent Chuck Heinlein will serve as superintendent of schools.

Priscilla Haden, one of the members who voted against Marple's firing and resigned in the wake of the decision, said she was pleased with the board's transparency.

"I believe there was transparency in the meeting and the public understands what happened," Haden said after the meeting, later saying she just "didn't know" whether she would reconsider her resignation.

In a 6-2 vote, the board voted to terminate Marple's position with members Wade Linger, Gayle Manchin, William White, Lloyd Jackson, Bob Dunlevy and Michael Green voting for her firing and members Haden and Jenny Phillips once again voting against the motion.

Because Marple is an at-will employee, the state Board of Education is not required to give a reason for her termination.

But President Wade Linger said he wanted to be "as open as possible to the public," which was met by laughs and jeers from some crowd members.

"Everyone is familiar with the situation we find ourselves in regarding the litany of statistics related to student achievement and our rankings," Linger said.

Linger noted West Virginia students rank below the national average in 21 of 24 categories of the National Assessment of Education Progress and also said Education Week's Quality Counts Report gave West Virginia an F in K-12 achievement.

He also said the state's graduation rate is at 78 percent and one in four high school students does not graduate on time.

"And these are just a few of our concerns," he said. "We read all of these things in the papers. So do our friends and family, and we hear about them in business groups, social groups and education groups. School employees hear about them. Parents hear about them. Students hear about them. They are as frustrated as we are."

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

Linger said the board decided the best way to fix the problems was to have a change in direction with leadership.

"Some of the issues that caused board members to perceive a change was needed are the following: Many members found no sense of urgency in the department to address some of the issues that have been outlined. When discussing concerns, we often were met with excuses and not actions. Too often we were told things can't change instead of being offered solutions. When current practices were challenged, we often found people being defensive."

Haden said she was "very upset" over the board's decision and noted several things she thought Marple accomplished including pushing foreign language, reading and free meals for students.

"My vote of no to her termination is based on the fact that Dr. Marple is and was an excellent superintendent," she concluded.

Marple did not attend the meeting.

Much of the meeting focused on public comment, where 19 speakers expressed their opinions on the process.

Many, such as West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, criticized the board's process.

"She is an at-will employee and the board can terminate her at any time," he said. "Your right to dismiss isn't the question. The way the board dealt with the dismissal of Marple speaks volumes of board members. The despicable way you handled her termination is now the legacy of this board. It has tarnished the image of public education in this state."

Lee said certain board members had discussions outside of board meetings, saying they violated the open meetings law.

"And now there is a lawsuit which you clearly will be on the losing side," Lee said referring to a lawsuit that was filed in the West Virginia Supreme Court by the parents of a Brookeview Elementary School special needs student alleging board members violated the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act.

"It appears to the public that you had chosen a successor and had discussions weeks before the vote to dismiss her. … This is the typical West Virginia good ol' boy arrangement."

Judy Hale, president of AFT West Virginia, called the decision "outrageous" and "hurtful."

"We need to begin to build that credibility and that trust to figure out how you can move forward, and we at the AFT are certainly willing to move forward with you because we all work for the children," she said.  "I know what the data says. I know where students are in terms of the rest of the country and the rest of the world. I don't object to change. I invite change. But I think that what you did was not respectful, not in the public's interest and you certainly lost a great deal of credibility in terms of the public and I hope that you take these words sincerely."

Robert Baker, chair of the West Virginia Supreme Court's Access to Justice commission, also took issue with the procedural issues.

"The board's gang of five as I like to call them has intentionally and knowingly violated  the open meetings act," he said, later adding, "Such a violation is a criminal misdemeanor under the statute. … It's likely the gang of five will be charged with a misdemeanor and you will have that on your permanent record."

Baker recommended reinstating Marple to her position with full back pay.

"Reconsidering is not sufficient. You can't reconsider an illegal act and therefore make it legal."

At the conclusion of the meeting, Linger said he truly believed this was the right thing to do.

"I have learned a lot of lessons over the past couple of weeks," he said. "I am just a businessman who was asked to serve on this state board. I can see now why a lot of people don't want to serve in state government. I approached this matter as a lot of businessmen would and I have now learned that you cannot always do that in the public sector."

"Despite the difficulty of these decisions, I believe this is the right thing to do," Linger continued. "If I have made any mistakes over the past couple of weeks, I apologize to the people of West Virginia. It was always my intent to do the best I could for the students of West Virginia."