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Appointments to state school board imminent, lawmakers say

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By Samuel Speciale

Charleston Daily Mail

State senators who drafted a resolution urging Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to fill vacancies on the West Virginia Board of Education said Tuesday they expect the governor to make an appointment soon.

The state Senate Education Committee intended to pass the resolution Tuesday, but state Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, withdrew it when he learned Tomblin is planning to announce his appointment in the coming days. Sypolt is the committee’s chairman.

The 12-member board, which oversees the state’s public education system, has had vacancies for more than two years now, and has been at least one member short since December 2012 when Priscilla Haden resigned in protest of the unexpected firing of former Superintendent Jorea Marple. Another seat opened up in November when Robert Dunlevy’s term expired.

Chris Stadelman, Tomblin’s spokesman, gave no indication Tuesday that the governor’s search was complete, but said a number of people have expressed interest in the two seats and that an appointment only would be made if Tomblin felt they were qualified candidates “who will move our education system forward.”

While Sypolt wasn’t told when to expect an announcement when he spoke with Tomblin’s office Tuesday afternoon, but he said it was his understanding that an appointment is “forthcoming.”

State code requires the governor to make appointments to the board of education, and while members are permitted to nominate a candidate, they do not have a say in making the final decision.

The lack of an appointment has been a source of frustration among the remaining seven voting members who have had to take on additional committee work.

Board President Gayle Manchin, who was appointed in 2007 by her husband and then-Gov. Joe Manchin, said having unfilled seats hinders the board from working at full pace. Because of this, Dunlevy agreed to continue serving on the board until Tomblin chooses a successor.

But appointing someone to the board isn’t as simple as it seems.

When asked about the vacancies in June, Stadelman said candidates must meet several conditions in order to sit on the board. Again in December, he said Tomblin was still reviewing candidates to make sure they were statutorily qualified.

State code requires that no more than five members belong to the same political party. They also are not permitted to be members of a political party executive committee and they cannot hold any other public office or be employees of the federal or state government.

To keep the board bi-partisan, appointees often are of the same political party as their predecessor.

For example, Haden’s seat will likely be filled by a Republican from the 2nd Congressional District. Dunleavy is a Democrat from the 1st District.

Appointing a new school board member can be lengthy process, especially if viable candidates do not express an interest in joining. Some state lawmakers would like to prevent future stalls from happening by amending West Virginia’s Constitution to require board members to be elected.

State Sen. Donna Boley, a vocal critic of West Virginia’s public education system, has said she and other legislators will propose an amendment that would have members elected by Congressional district and shorten their terms from nine years to six. Lawmakers aren’t able to make such a change without it first being approved by voters at the ballot.

Boley also said elections would hold board members accountable to an electorate because, as currently structured, the board “does what it wants.”

Barring any such change, Tomblin’s appointees will serve full nine-year terms.

Board members receive no compensation other than a per diem for attending monthly meetings and reimbursements for job-related expenses.