Search begins for state school chief
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Board of Education has started making preliminary plans to undertake a nationwide search for a new state superintendent of schools -- more than six months after hiring Jim Phares to hold the position in the interim.
State school board President Wade Linger said he recently met with Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to ask for guidance in beginning the hiring process, and said the search for a superintendent is "very much on the front burner."
The board plans to hire an outside consulting firm to conduct the search, Linger said, and Morrisey has agreed to supervise the board along the way.
"The last thing we want to do after all we've been through is to do this wrong," Linger said Tuesday. "We are moving forward with the search, but it is very important that we go through the process correctly."
After the school board voted to fire former state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple in November, Linger immediately recommended Phares, then-Randolph County superintendent, for the position.
When Phares took office in December, it was understood that he would only be serving in the position while the board conducted a search for a more long-term candidate.
The state school board has since faced much criticism, with controversy swirling around the motives for Marple's abrupt termination. Marple, who blamed politics, is now suing the state Board of Education, saying she was denied due process and has since suffered damage to her reputation.
"I understand that there may be people out there that would like to think we'd be moving faster, but we're just kind of in that area between wanting to make sure we do it right and being perceived as dragging our feet," Linger said.
Linger said Morrisey will attend the regular Board of Education meeting today, and has agreed to "put together a process for the board to follow" in order to identify the best search firm for the job and find the most eligible candidate. Morrisey's office said Tuesday it was premature to comment.
Linger has reasons for his caution about the hiring process.
In 2000, the state school board bungled its search for a new superintendent, paying a firm $30,000 to find a replacement for former state Superintendent Hank Marockie.
That consulting firm forgot that state law required the superintendent to have a master's degree in education administration and five years of "public school work," and recommended someone without that degree, which pointed the board in the wrong direction.
That state-regulated criteria came up again this time, with school board members urging legislators that the requirements were too strict and would minimize the pool of candidates for superintendent.
In March, those requirements were stripped as part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill. Now, state code only requires the superintendent to have a master's degree in any subject, not just education administration.
In addition, the bill removed the state superintendent's $175,000 salary cap, at the school board's request.
"We got what we were hoping for," Linger said. "And now we are moving forward."
Linger praised Phares' stint as superintendent so far, and said the board has worked diligently on tackling the recommendations found in Tomblin's sweeping audit of the state school system.
"We've done a lot," he said. "In fact, at each board meeting, we send a letter to the governor reporting on our progress."
Phares said through a spokeswoman Tuesday that he's been honored to serve as superintendent so far, and supports the board's decision to conduct a search for a more long-term candidate.
"The board is doing the right thing. Months ago they said they would move forward with a national search, and they are," he said. "In the meantime, there is still a lot of work to do."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.