Motive in Marple firing: self interest of board members
So it appears there may be a clue to explain the firing last month of state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple, and as we expected it had not much at all to do with improving education or the well-being of West Virginia’s schoolchildren.
According to a report this week in The Charleston Gazette, Marple was dismissed because she ran afoul of board members who favored no-bid contracts for projects to which they were closely tied.
One of those contracts was for a social learning network company founded in 2007 by Idit Caperton, the wife of former Gov. Gaston Caperton. Board member Gayle Manchin serves as co-chair of the company’s West Virginia affiliate’s advisory board. According to the Gazette, Manchin and Caperton wanted the company’s program to be selected by the state Department of Education; West Virginia has already spent more than $1 million on it.
Marple, instead, wanted to see the contract on the program competitively bid as state law requires, drawing the ire of both Manchin and Caperton.
Another contract dispute that public interest group Mountain State Justice, in an amended petition it filed with the state Supreme Court, alleges cost Marple her job concerned AmberVision, a missing children software program in use by the state since 2010. Board member Lloyd Jackson serves as a trustee of the Benedum Foundation, which funded a grant for the state to begin using the software. Marple was apparently concerned about the practice of giving cash awards to schools that enrolled the most students in the program.
Marple crossed swords again with Manchin over the former’s dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in completing a federal stimulus project to bring high-speed Internet to West Virginia schools.
In short, where Marple’s clear focus appeared to be on what improved education in West Virginia and on following best practices to that end, the important thing for her bosses on the state board was about how best to serve the interests of one another and their cronies, political and otherwise.
It’s no wonder these characters have been so vague in their explanation about why Marple had to go; there’s not enough makeup in the world to dress up this pig.
If the intent of these board members was to improve education, they might have done well to take heed at last week’s special session where dozens showed up to speak in defense of Marple – praising her work as an innovator, particularly among students from low-income homes; as an administrator focused on schoolchildren, not on bureaucracy; and as someone committed to vibrant arts programs and in other ways to move the school system in the right direction.
Instead, at that meeting, after emerging from a pair of 90-minute closed-door sessions, a majority of board members voted to fire Marple again in order to dodge allegations that the superintendent’s termination violated state open meeting requirements.
This fiasco reminds us what happens when top officials in whom we place our trust forget themselves and the purpose of their office: no longer servants of the public good, but seekers of their own private gain.