CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's official. West Virginia Board of Education members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips have resigned, with both citing displeasure with the way the board abruptly fired former state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple.The two were the only board members who did not vote to fire Marple in November and announced their intentions to resign the same day that she was fired.Phillips, of Elkins, has served on the board since 2005 and faxed her resignation letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Thursday "with a great deal of sadness.""I can no longer serve on the Board that shows such a lack of regard for a person's reputation and livelihood as was done in the firing of Superintendent Jorea Marple. 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 in the letter.
Phillips also wrote that Marple had devoted her life to education and by taking "an illegal action," the board "destroyed any further achievement she may have made for children."A pending court petition alleges that the state board violated open meetings laws when they voted to fire Marple, which included closed-door discussions, and points to certain board members' ties to contracts that the superintendent did not support as cause for her sudden ouster.The board met to revisit the decision weeks later in an effort to clear up any possible wrongdoings during the first process, where they again voted to fire Marple. Phillips and Haden again voiced their support for Marple.Haden, who worked as a teacher in Monongalia, Wood and Kanawha counties before she was appointed to the board in 2003, said she mailed her resignation letter to the governor on Thursday. Her resignation is effective Dec. 31."The primary reason for this is the handling of Dr. Marple's firing," she said Friday in a phone interview. "Of course it is sad, but I'm one of those very, very fortunate people that came from the teaching ranks and was appointed to the state board. How often does a teacher get to do that?"In Haden's letter, she urges Tomblin to appoint a new board member who is from the Eastern Panhandle in order to represent the Second Congressional District. For too long, Kanawha County representatives, who are also in that congressional district, have been serving in those positions on the board, she wrote."If you follow the law, the two new board members should be Republicans from the Second Congressional District," Haden said. Both she and Phillips are outgoing Republicans.Haden, who serves on a variety of committees and boards, which include the state School Building Authority, The Education Alliance and the National Center for Learning and Citizenship Executive Board, said she doesn't know what the future holds but that she has a tendency to stay busy."New things keep popping up," she said.Phillips plans to spend more time in Florida with her family.On Wednesday, the state board will swear in Jim Phares, former Randolph County superintendent, as the new state superintendent of schools.
State board President Wade Linger recommended Phares the same day Marple was initially fired in November.Earlier this month, the board said Phares would serve only while its members conduct a nationwide search for a more permanent superintendent. However, some board members have said that a nationwide search could be contingent on whether the Legislature agrees to change state code to alleviate the requirements to become state superintendent.Currently, the state superintendent must have a master's degree in education administration in addition to other public school experience, which some board members believe are a hindrance.Phares said his No. 1 priority is to implement the numerous recommendations made in the governor's sweeping efficiency audit of the state's public schools system."I don't know how Dr. Phares will do," Haden said, "but I do feel confident that necessary changes are going to be made."Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.