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State Board of Education: Fate of superintendent search, audit of contracts unclear

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Board of Education members did not make any decisions concerning several hot topics listed on Wednesday's monthly meeting agenda, including a nationwide search for a new superintendent, a review of the department's existing contracts and a list prioritizing the governor's audit recommendations.Despite board President Wade Linger's proposal last month for an internal audit of the department's purchasing procedures and contracts with outside vendors, the board voted Wednesday to delay that review until there are more details about the scope of the project."This thing could cost tens of thousands of dollars. This department has literally hundreds and hundreds of contracts. Reviewing all of those doesn't make sense," board member Lloyd Jackson said. "When we have more of a definition of what we need to review -- if anything -- then, that's the time to do that."Linger proposed the audit of the department's contracts after a lawsuit alleged that former state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple was unlawfully terminated. One of the reasons for her sudden ouster was because of her refusal to support no-bid contracts that certain board members had ties to, the suit alleged.In December, Linger said he intended to ask the West Virginia Bar to supply the board with an attorney to examine all of the department's bidding procedures in an attempt to prove the board's transparency."I believe that it is extremely important for county boards of education, county administrators, teachers, students, parents and taxpayers to have confidence that the Board and the Department are following the rules and regulations put in place by our legislators," Linger said in a statement last month.After the meeting, Linger said he was disappointed in the board's decision."I think that it's potentially a missed opportunity to show how clean things really are and have been. I do understand as broad as a proposal it was, it could be very expensive. I understand we don't want to waste money," he said. "There's probably a path where we can accomplish what I want to accomplish without going through and reviewing hundreds of contracts that nobody has any questions about anyway."Jim Phares, who served on the board as state superintendent for the first time Wednesday, said he respects the board's decisions and he thinks Linger's proposal could prove to be more time than it's worth."It's just a workload type of thing. There's so much else we're getting ready for right now," he said. Also listed on Wednesday's agenda was discussion and/or action proposed for the state superintendent of schools search.Board members have said Phares' position is only temporary while a nationwide search is conducted to find a more long-term appointee.However, some board members have said a nationwide search may not happen if the Legislature doesn't agree to amend state code to alleviate the qualifications to become state superintendent. Now, law requires the state superintendent to have a master's degree in education administration and experience in public schools.On Wednesday, Linger made a brief statement about the potential search, with no further comments made by board members."I had the opportunity to speak with the governor's staff about looking at the code related to qualifications of state superintendent, and they told me it's on their radar screen. That's about it for now, so we will continue to pursue that," he said.
Linger said that while Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has voiced his support to amending the qualifications, "it's impossible to predict" the outcome. Linger doesn't know whether the board would choose to move ahead with a nationwide search if the qualifications are not changed, as they are requesting."We want to do a serious national search, but the feeling for years has been that the way the qualifications are defined right now really limits that. There are very few people who meet those specific requirements outside of West Virginia," he said. "I'm a West Virginian, and most of us are. We would hope that ultimately, the person that rises to the top is a West Virginian, but I think it's just wrong to presuppose that that's the case."At last month's meeting, Linger asked board members to prioritize what recommendations in the governor's sweeping education audit they feel the board should tackle first.But by Wednesday's meeting, no board members -- except Jackson -- had submitted their suggestions."You get a gold star," Linger told Jackson.Also at Wednesday's meeting, the board:
* Revised its 2014 budget to comply with a statewide 7.5 percent budget cut to state agencies. The state board is requesting that $1.1 million be reinstated for the Local Solutions Dropout Prevention and Recovery program.* Voted to table decisions on improvements to facilities at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind. The agency is requesting $3.4 million for improvements, in addition to a new facility that's tailored to postgraduate students.* Requested a national safety expert to help West Virginia schools with crisis response plans and facility security measures.* Awarded full accreditation status to three Mingo County schools.Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-4814.    
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