MARTINSBURG – For the first time since late 2006, the Eastern Panhandle has a representative on the West Virginia Board of Education.
Late last week, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced he’d appointed Tina Combs, a Bunker Hill resident and the longtime executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, to the nine-member board.
No one from Berkeley, Morgan or Jefferson counties has served on the board since Sheila Hamilton’s term expired more than six years ago.
The Jefferson County businesswoman had served on the board since 1993 when then-Gov. Gaston Caperton appointed her to a nine-year term. She was tapped by Caperton’s successor Bob Wise to fill out a four-year unexpired term that concluded in November 2006.
Combs, 47, replaces Elkins resident Jenny Phillips, who resigned last month in protest over the abrupt November firing of Superintendent Jorea Marple. Priscilla Haden of Charleston also cited the handling of Marple’s dismissal when she resigned effective Dec. 31.
Both board members had voted against firing Marple, who’d been hired unanimously in March of 2011.
At the time of Marple’s firing when Phillips and Haden first said they’d give up their posts, some legislative leaders in the Eastern Panhandle – including Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson – immediately urged Tomblin to give at least one of the open slots to someone from eastern West Virginia.
Combs’ appointment – for the unexpired portion of Phillips’ term – will run until 2016.
She joins the board at a time of upheaval. Two lawsuits have been filed over Marple’s Nov. 15 firing, which was led by L. Wade Linger, a tech entrepreneur from Marion County who serves as the board’s president.
Within hours of leading the effort to remove Marple though she’d been given a positive job evaluation and a pay raise earlier in 2012 and despite no mention of Marple’s job performance on the board’s agenda that day as required by law, Linger announced he wanted former Marion County Superintendent Jim Phares in the post. Phares took the oath of office Jan. 3, though Linger has promised that the state board would begin a nationwide search for superintendent.
At presstime, the governor had not named anyone to replace Haden.
Others on the board – all of whom voted to fire Marple – are: Gayle C. Manchin, the wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin who was appointed to the board by her husband, then governor, to replace Hamilton in 2007; Robert Dunlevy of Wheeling, William M. White of Bluefield, Michael I. Green of Morgantown and Lloyd G. Jackson II of Lincoln County.
Just last month, Tomblin gave a nine-year appointment to former state lawmaker Thomas Campbell of Greenbrier County.
Campbell, who served in the Legislature for 16 years, replaced Lowell Johnson, whose second term on the school board expired Nov. 4 – just 11 days before Marple’s firing. The Lewisburg educator has said he would have voted with Haden and Phillips to keep Marple in her job.
Combs, a mother of two who has lived in South Berkeley since 1991, took over the chamber’s top job in May of 2004.
A native of Frederick County, Va., she graduated from James Wood High School in 1983. She came to the chamber after serving as executive director of the Old Town Development Board in Winchester, Va.
She also had worked in various capacities for the city of Winchester, as a legal secretary, for E.I. DuPont in Front Royal, Va., at Rubbermaid Commercial Products in Winchester and for the Frederick County (Va.) Public School system.
In early 2004, she finished a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership from the now-defunct Mountain State University. She also holds an associate’s degree in applied science from Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Va., and a certificate in community economic development from Virginia Tech’s Virginia Institute for Economic Development.
Combs’ appointment to the state school board took effect immediately.
In announcing his selection, Tomblin said in a statement released Friday: “With education as one of my top priorities, I believe it’s vital to have the best State Board of Education possible, and today, I appointed a new member who I believe will serve our children well. Tina has a long-standing record of service to our state’s education system, and I believe her many years of leadership and community service will be a major asset to the State Board.
“I look forward to working with Tina and the rest of the State Board as we work together to ensure our children are prepared for successful careers in a 21st-century economy.”
In addition to her work with the Berkeley school system, Combs also has served as the head of the Blue Ridge Community and Technical College’s board of governors and as president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Executives. She also has served as chairwoman of the Region VII Workforce Investment Board.
Combs said Monday she’s heard from many parents, business leaders and others in the Panhandle in the days since Tomblin appointed her.
“I’m honored to be appointed and appreciate all of the positive feedback and support that I’ve received from our chamber and the community,” she said. “Education is truly the foundation to success in our state, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone.”
Before Combs, no Berkeley County resident had served on the board since the early 1990s when N. Blaine Groves, a physician and Gassaway native, left after more than a decade in the job. He died in 2000.
The board’s next regular meeting is set for Feb. 13 and 14 in Charleston.