By Mackenzie Mays
The Charleston Gazette
The West Virginia Board of Education expects to elect Michael Martirano, who oversees a public school district in Maryland, as the next state superintendent of schools.
Martirano, who has served as superintendent for St. Mary’s County Public Schools in southern Maryland for nearly a decade, will be nominated for the West Virginia job on July 1, and is expected to be elected that day, according to a press release from the state Department of Education on Wednesday evening.
Martirano, who has a doctorate in education and school management from the Florida-based Nova Southeastern University, is described as “the grandson of a coal miner” in the WVDE release.
He is a former Maryland superintendent of the year and was named “innovator of the year” by the Maryland Daily Record in 2010.
He oversees about 17,000 students at his current district, but would be charged with overseeing more than 280,000 if he is named the state superintendent in West Virginia.
Wednesday’s announcement came as a shock, after the state Board of Education had just voted one day prior to elect Deputy Superintendent Chuck Heinlein as superintendent, saying it needed more time and would not meet its initial July 1 deadline.
The board spent eight hours in private session on Tuesday interviewing the final three candidates in Charleston — including Martirano — but refused to release names or details about the finalists.
State Board of Education President Gayle Manchin said Wednesday there legally cannot be an interim superintendent, and because the board was unsure of Martirano’s timeline, Heinlein had to be sworn in during the transition process.
Current superintendent Jim Phares had announced he will retire June 30.
Manchin said that there were no decisions made in executive session on Tuesday, but also said that the board had to give Martirano time to tell his current employers that he would accept the West Virginia job.
“We did not decide yesterday. Literally nothing was determined or settled until he could speak to his board … He had to have the opportunity to go back and alert his boss, so we owed him that,” Manchin said. “Once the decision was made, we still had to honor the fact his employer should not read about this in the newspaper.”
The board was scrutinized for not releasing candidate names to the public, paying an out-of-state search firm to conduct a nationwide search for about $43,000.
This follows the board’s controversial firing of former superintendent Jorea Marple in 2012, who is now suing the board for wrongful termination, saying its members violated open meeting laws and contrived in secret to fire her.
Manchin said she knows about some concerns from the public but that the board was only worried about respecting the candidates’ requests for confidentiality.
“I know that for some of you, you look at this and say, ‘ Oh you were just trying to trick us,’ but truly, when you’re bringing people from around the country … You’re not going to hire all of them. You certainly don’t want to jeopardize somebody’s employment. That’s the reason we did it,” Manchin said.
Of the more than 60 candidates who applied for the job, and of the three finalists, Manchin said she is certain Martirano is the best fit for the job.
“We interviewed three candidates. It wasn’t easy. That’s one reason we were in session as long as were [Tuesday.] We did quite a bit of deliberation and discussing of who would be the best match for West Virginia — who had the vision, who was going to be the voice of education ,” Manchin said. “We were very deliberate about it. Every one of those board members took making this decision very seriously.”
Manchin also said that the lengthy, at times controversial, search process since Marple’s firing has been worth it.
“We absolutely feel that. We all left feeling not only glad that we had been able to bring it to resolution, but glad that we had gone through the process, dotted every I, crossed every T, so that there would be no questions asked about it,” Manchin said. “We feel that for the children of West Virginia, it went very well.”
The board will meet July 1 at the state capitol to vote on Mortirano’s hiring.