The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


November 18, 2012

So many questions


Like a pier on a hot summer day at the beach, this smells just a bit fishy.

Without warning Thursday, the West Virginia Board of Education fired Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple.

This didn’t just come from left field. It came out of the stadium’s upper deck.

It rocked the education community, as Marple was widely viewed as a competent and successful leader of West Virginia’s schools. No one seemed to see this coming.

Except, perhaps, the five members who voted to oust her.

Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said the state board voted 5-2 to terminate Marple’s contract, with members Jenny Phillips and Priscilla Haden opposing the decision. They immediately resigned their own positions on the board in protest, effective Dec. 31.

They must not have seen it coming either.

Marple said she was “surprised” and added, “I had received only words of encouragement.”

Without reprimands or poor personal evaluations, how could she have known there was a problem that needed addressed or that her position was in jeopardy?

She says two particular board members, Gayle Manchin and Robert Dunlevy, two of the five who voted to fire her, recently told her she was doing a good job.

Board President Wade Linger said in a statement that the board believes the state’s school system needs a “new direction” and “new leadership” and added an audit of the state school system and the Department of Education “opened up a lot of questions.”

There are a lot of questions to be answered — and they aren’t the ones raised by the audit. The least of which now is, “Why?”

If Marple’s performance was so lacking, why have her evaluations been positive and why was the action not on the Thursday meeting’s agenda?

Isn’t taking a vote on an item not on the agenda a violation of the state’s open meetings law? Many, we among them, believe so.

Why did Linger come to the meeting with an apparent heir to the job at the ready, and why will there be no state or national search for a replacement?

Doesn’t the public — and Marple herself — have a right to know which of her actions was so egregious that immediate termination was necessary?

If, as some in the education community have suggested, there was political motivation behind the move, what would that motivation be? Isn’t the education of children more important that politics?

If the differences were philosophical, as others have said, why not give her a chance to work through them before summarily dismissing her?

Our legislators should be asking these questions, as well. Not in the rhetorical sense that they are asked here, but put them to Linger and the others who hatched this smelly egg.

We look forward to hearing these and other questions answered — if Linger deigns to do so.

And we’ll also be interested to see the new direction Linger spoke of. Without explanation, we are at a loss to as to what was wrong with the old one.

We’re hopeful that this move has only the welfare of our state’s school-age children in mind and not some ill-conceived power play or politically motivated effort.

The position of West Virginia superintendent of schools is one that is much too important to play games with.

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