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State education official hired, quickly fired amid Va. investigation

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By Eric Eyre 
The Charleston Gazette

West Virginia Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano’s first major administrative hire lasted four days on the job, after Department of Education officials learned that the office’s new executive director is being investigated for allegedly misusing state funds at a similar post in Virginia.

On Dec. 4, Tammy McGraw was fired from her job as executive director of the West Virginia department’s instructional technology division. Just days earlier, Martirano, state school board members and other high-ranking department officials received an anonymous letter that listed details about the Virginia investigation.

McGraw’s lawyer said her former co-workers at the Virginia Department of Education fabricated the allegations.

“This is a character assassination,” said John Wooton, a Beckley lawyer and former member of the West Virginia School Building Authority. “That letter was written solely to tortuously interfere with her employment.”

Martirano and department officials never contacted the Virginia education department about McGraw, Virginia school officials said.

McGraw, a Beckley native, resigned under pressure from her job as technology director at the Virginia Department of Education on Nov. 6, after she was suspended with pay in September. The Virginia State Office of Inspector General has been investigating McGraw for months. Investigators seized McGraw’s computer and thousands of documents, according to those familiar with the inquiry.

“There has been an investigation, and we’re complying fully with that investigation,” said Julie Grimes, spokeswoman for the Virginia education department.

Grimes said Virginia officials found out about McGraw’s hiring after her name and title were posted on the West Virginia education department’s website. McGraw’s name has since been scrubbed from the website.

“No one at the Virginia Department of Education was contacted to indicate that she was interviewing or being considered for a job with the West Virginia Department of Education,” Grimes said.

Martirano, who was hired as superintendent in September, sidestepped questions about McGraw this week.

“I’m going to defer to [department lawyer] Heather [Hutchens],” he said, after speaking at a legislative interim meeting at the state Capitol. “Right now, it’s a personnel matter.”

Hutchens walked up to Martirano and a reporter after learning that her boss was being asked about McGraw. Hutchens and Martirano wouldn’t say why McGraw was sacked.

“We can’t go into any of those details,” Hutchens said. “We can’t talk about any of those reasons.”

On Wednesday, West Virginia education department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro issued a statement in response to additional questions about why department officials didn’t contact their Virginia counterparts before offering McGraw the executive director’s job in West Virginia.

“It is unfair to assume that the West Virginia Department of Education did not do its due diligence during the hiring practice,” Cordeiro said. “Unfortunately, because of personnel reasons, we cannot provide details on all of the steps taken prior to the hiring. Once we are able to comment further, we certainly will do so.”

McGraw did not respond to a phone message left at her home in Beckley.

Wooton said West Virginia education officials dismissed McGraw, citing “a loss of confidence” in her.

Last week, McGraw filed a grievance against department officials, seeking to get her job back in West Virginia.

“They lost confidence in her in three and a half days? Can you imagine that?” Wooton asked.

Wooton has spoken to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office about the investigation and sent a letter to the Virginia education department. He said the investigation has damaged McGraw’s reputation.

“Tammy’s a great person, wonderfully qualified and enjoys an impeccable reputation,” Wooton said. “Her evaluations were always superb.”

The anonymous letter about the Virginia inspector general’s investigation of McGraw had a Richmond postmark and was dated Nov. 28. The letter writer said West Virginia school officials made a “grave mistake” by hiring McGraw.

The letter alleges that McGraw used department funds to buy equipment for personal use, and to pay for personal travel. Contractors also were paid, even though they did nothing and never secured state contracts, according to the letter.

The letter lists the names and phone numbers of three investigators at the Inspector General’s Office and six Virginia education department employees who “could verify all of these allegations” against McGraw.

The letter was copied to Martirano, West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin, four other board members and three other high-ranking department officials. The state Legislative Commission on Special investigations also received a copy.

Wooton called the allegations against McGraw “false and libelous.” He said Virginia education officials never gave McGraw a chance to refute the accusations. McGraw, who worked for eight years at the Virginia Department of Education, was a frequent speaker at national education technology conferences. The Virginia Inspector General’s Office is expected to release a report about its investigation in the next several weeks. The agency investigates allegations of “waste and inefficiencies in state government.”

“They won’t find anything substantive,” Wooton said. “These are all just falsehoods.”