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W.Va. board prez had Phares in mind before firing

Feb. 08, 2013 @ 12:45 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Emails between the president of the West Virginia Board of Education and acting superintendent Jim Phares show the possibility of replacing then-Superintendent Jorea Marple was being discussed two months before she was fired in a public vote that shocked Marple's supporters and two members of the board.

The Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/12xNPNO) and Charleston Daily Mail (http://bit.ly/12xNPNO) obtained emails dating to September under a Freedom of Information Act request. The requests were made in November, but the documents weren't turned over until Thursday.

Board President Wade Linger says he asked Phares for a biography in September because he was aware of his credentials. But he also says the idea of replacing Marple goes further back, to the review of a March 2012 education-efficiency audit.

Marple was fired Nov. 15, 2012, five months after a positive performance review. Her attorneys say she will sue. The parents of a student have also sued, arguing the board broke open-meeting laws.

Linger denies any wrongdoing.

Phares and Linger worked together in Marion County, but Linger denies the appointment was either predetermined or politically motivated. He also says though the idea may have been his, he couldn't have acted without majority approval from the board.

"I don't know how anybody could say that we were somehow buddies or something like that," he said. "I've only known him in a professional way."

Linger and Phares also exchanged emails a week before Marple's termination, discussing the audit recommendations. Phares had publicly complained about a state data system, and Linger, who has a background in technology, was of similar mind.

Shortly after Marples was fired, Phares announced his plans to resign as Randolph County Schools' superintendent. But Linger warned him by email to hold off.

"I am being told that it is a bad idea for you to take any kind of resignation action whatsoever until after the WVBOE takes official action offering you the position," Linger wrote. "The concern is that your doing so will create the appearance that I am overstepping my authority by offering a position on my own.

"Even if you and I know that is not true, it most certainly can and will be (spun) that way," he said. "I don't need that extra hurdle to jump, and it will definitely harm my chances of convincing the Board to support me on this."

Phares was unanimously appointed and sworn in the following month.

Lingers said the board had been frustrated by Marple's response to the audit, and he felt it was his duty to "start looking for a change in leadership." He defended requesting Phares' biography, saying it would have been irresponsible to recommend a termination without having a replacement in mind.

"I would think that the public would expect that the president of the board would do what I did," he said.

Marple and her supporters, however, were crying foul within minutes after the firing. Board members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips resigned shortly after voting against the termination.

 

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