‘Yesterday, this day’s madness did prepare’

Thursday in Charleston, it’s expected a majority of the state Board of Education will again fire Jorea Marple, the highly regarded former principal and Kanawha County superintendent hired as state schools chief just 18 months ago.

Board president Wade Linger now wants to ax Marple properly – with the item placed on the board’s agenda, as required by West Virginia’s Open Meetings law, and with the public given the chance to weigh in. The board first fired her, without the required legal notice, in a 5-2 vote on Nov. 15.

We applaud government bodies that do the right thing, but in this case, the state board is still wrong.

“Ridiculous” is how Jenny Phillips describes Linger’s plan for Thursday. Both she and Priscilla Haden voted against firing Marple earlier this month and have vowed to resign from the state board in protest.

In a news account in the Charleston Daily Mail, Phillips pointed to two other items on Thursday’s agenda as signs that the “discussion” of Marple’s job performance is nothing more than formality: 1) The board still will discuss hiring a new superintendent and 2) an “oath of office” follows that discussion.

“I don’t know why they’re having the meeting,” Phillips said. “They might as well administer the oath of office.”

After showing Marple the door on Nov. 15, Linger sought to name Jim Phares to replace her on the spot. When Haden expressed dismay at that, Linger agreed to hold off – for a few days. Then early last week – as furor about Marple’s firing spread statewide and with about 150 gathering for a protest at the Capitol just before Thanksgiving – Linger again postponed discussion of Marple’s replacement.

But it appears the board president – a resident of Marion County and one of five board members appointed to the board by former Gov. Joe Manchin, also of Marion County – plans to carry on with his initial intention to install as state schools chief Phares, formerly the superintendent of Marion County.

Given Linger’s actions in ousting Marple, it’s impossible to feel secure about the judgment he brings to selecting a new schools chief, responding to the audit of the school system or anything else.

In their ham-handed rush to push Marple out, Linger, Gayle Manchin, Robert Dunlevy, William White and Michael Green have set a horrendous example for county school boards and other government bodies across West Virginia.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin should begin an investigation into whether Linger and his followers plotted in secret to get rid of Marple and replace her with someone more pleasing to their whims. (There are nine voting members on the board. Lloyd Jackson, appointed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, was out of town Nov. 15 and missed the vote; Lowell Johnson, who has said he would have supported Marple, completed his tenure on the board on Nov. 4 and has not yet been replaced.)

In a commentary published last week and reprinted in this edition of the Spirit of Jefferson, Linger defended his actions, saying the state board is focused on “serious education reform” for the Mountain State. He concluded: “The challenge for all of us is to be a positive force in lives of children’s by always making decisions that put students first.”

This school board already has failed that challenge and should spare us all this farce set for Thursday. There’s nothing about this that benefits West Virginia schoolchildren.

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