State BOE delays search for schools superintendent

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By Mackenzie Mays 
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After more than eight hours in private session interviewing three top finalists on Tuesday, the state Board of Education voted to extend its deadline for hiring a new state superintendent of schools.

The board announced that it will not meet its original July 1 deadline — which is when Superintendent Jim Phares will officially retire — and voted to hire Deputy Superintendent Chuck Heinlein to serve in the interim until it makes a decision. There is no new official deadline.

“The goal is to complete our process, and then, if a candidate is offered the job, do they accept the job? Then we agree on terms of arrangement. That’s the reason it’s still an ongoing process,” said state school board President Gayle Manchin. “It’s not just like, ‘Here’s a name, OK it’s a done deal.’ There’s a lot of in-between.”

Heinlein, who will be paid $165,000, technically will be the superintendent because state code does not allow an “interim” superintendent, but has signed on knowing it’s short term.

At the Charleston Marriott Town Center, the board interviewed three finalists, whose names were not released, who were recruited by an Iowa-­based search firm that cost the board more than $40,000 to conduct a nationwide search.

The board went to extreme measures Tuesday to protect the candidates’ identities, saying all three are currently employed and have requested confidentiality.

Board liaison Donna Peduto asked a Gazette reporter to leave the floor of the Marriott building where interviews were taking place and said hotel security would prevent media from seeing the finalists.

Peduto later told the Gazette that it was “a misunderstanding” and that reporters were welcome. School board officials set up news media seating along a hallway in front of the main-entrance elevators, but candidates were taken in and out through a back entrance, a hotel employee said.

Marriott signage also obstructed the view of the media from the Capitol Board Room where interviews were held.

While the final three candidates have been made public in past West Virginia superintendent searches, Manchin said that in those cases the candidates were from in-state and this time more privacy is required.

“It was entirely different when it was more local. Then, obviously, it was very difficult for anyone here in West Virginia to apply for a job without people knowing about it and it wasn’t a problem for them. But this was very different, and this is not uncommon,” Manchin said. “I just think in West Virginia it has been an oddity because it was never done that way before. To bring that caliber of candidates and people to West Virginia just makes me very proud.”

Manchin would not confirm if any of the candidates were from West Virginia or if they are serving or have served as state superintendents elsewhere.

“I think when you start getting into specifics, it’s just too easy for it to start getting squirrelly,” she said.

The board is being sued by former state Superintendent Jorea Marple, who claims the board fired her for political reasons in 2012 and broke open-meeting laws.

Manchin has said that controversy is part of the reason the board has committed to a more thorough superintendent search this time around.

“We had an exciting day. We interviewed three wonderful candidates. I’m so proud of the quality and caliber of the candidates that we have come down through the process,” Manchin said Tuesday.