By Mackenzie Mays
West Virginia Board of Education members have narrowed the pool of candidates for the next state superintendent of schools down to three individuals, but they’re not making that list public.
In a statement Tuesday, the board said that it does not plan to release the names of the finalists in order to protect their privacy, but said it is “more than willing” to conduct public interviews if candidates so choose.
“The board acknowledges the new state superintendent will be the chief education official for West Virginia. As such, the board aims to couple transparency in its intentions and standards with respect for the current employment engagements of candidates, each of whom is given autonomy to determine whether his or her interview will occur in public,” the board said via email through Department of Education Spokesperson Christine Galusha on Tuesday. “ ... Candidates who are not ultimately selected will continue in their current positions, and we must respect their decisions regarding privacy during interviews.”
A total of 64 people applied for the position, with the board paying $43,000 to an Iowa-based firm to conduct a nationwide search.
The board has since conducted interviews with five of those individuals and has narrowed the finalists to three.
The board would not disclose if any of those candidates are West Virginia residents but said it plans to make a decision by the end of the month.
Top superintendent finalists have been named publicly in the past, including 2011 when state School Building Authority Director Mark Manchin, WVU-Tech President Carolyn Long and Jorea Marple vied for the position.
But Gayle Manchin, president of the state school board and wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, cousin of Mark Manchin, said that’s because typically in the past, extensive nationwide searches have not been conducted, and the superintendent came from within the state.
“It would have to be closed because all of these candidates have requested strict confidentiality,” Manchin said last week when asked about the possibility of public interviews and naming of candidates. “[Before], it was always people in the state. We’ve never really truly done a national search, but you’ve got to understand that these individuals pretty much have jobs, and you could be a finalist for this job and not get it. You don’t wanna lose the job that you have because you applied.”
In 2000, the state school board had a negative experience with an outside search firm hired to replace former superintendent Hank Marockie, after the firm selected a candidate without proper state requirements.
When asked if board members felt extra pressure to be transparent with the public during this process, following ex-superintendent Marple’s firing last year which resulted in a pending lawsuit over open meeting laws and major criticism from the public, the board said it has engaged with the public and entertained public comment at monthly meetings.
“The board expects and appreciates public interest in the selection of the chief education official for West Virginia, and presumes all interest derives from an intrinsic concern for the future of the state’s education system by increasing student achievement, which is at all times the board’s most important priority,” according to the statement.
The statement also assured that the board “conducts the interviews and coordinates compliance with open meetings laws” and “follows general protocol for open meetings and provides regular updates regarding its steps in the process.”
Mark Manchin and Long both told the Gazette they do not have plans to apply again to be state superintendent. Other rumored candidates, including state school board member Lloyd Jackson and former Gov. Bob Wise also confirmed they are not in the running.