Who wants to be state superintendent? Top officials dispel rumors

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By Mackenzie Mays 
The Charleston Gazette 

Top education officials are dispelling rumors that they’re interested in becoming West Virginia’s next superintendent of schools, including outgoing School Building Authority Director Mark Manchin and members of the state Board of Education, tasked with choosing the superintendent.

Last week, Superintendent Jim Phares announced his plans to retire this summer — an expected move, since the Board of Education said he would serve in the position only temporarily after the abrupt firing of then-Superintendent Jorea Marple in late 2012. Phares will have served as superintendent for at least 18 months, by the time he retires.

Officials acknowledge that the controversy with Marple, who is suing the school board for wrongful termination, has fueled public mistrust of the board.

School Board President Gayle Manchin, wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has heard the accusations herself — that the board has someone up its sleeve for the superintendent position, despite paying $43,000 for an out-of-state firm to conduct a nationwide search for potential candidates.

“They think this is some kind of a game we’re playing. You get the feeling that people think we’ve already got the person picked,” she said. “When Dr. Phares was hired, the rumor then was we were just saying we were going to do a national search and really didn’t intend to. That has followed us all along.”

A majority of school board members voted to fire Marple, wife of former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, in November 2012 and, that same day, suggested then-Randolph County Superintendent Phares for an interim position, with plans to conduct a broader search for a long-term replacement.

The board has since changed state code to lessen the requirements of becoming superintendent, now allowing anyone with a master’s degree — not just a master’s in education administration — to qualify. Additionally, a $175,000 salary cap has been removed from state code.

“I’m not going to speak to the past, but I will just tell you the seriousness of this search is very different from ones done in the past,” said Manchin, who was among those who voted to fire Marple, “and I think, as the public looks on, they don’t have a frame of reference for what we’re doing now. And I think that as we progress, it will become more evident.”

Manchin said she has no intentions of vying for the superintendent position herself, but is aware of swirling rumors that fellow board member Jackson does.

However, Jackson, who as former chairman of the state senate’s Education Committee spearheaded Promise Scholarship legislation, says “absolutely not.”

“The answer is no. I have absolutely no interest in that. They’re just rumors. It’s a great job, but I have lots of other things going on,” he said. “We are serious about this search — about finding the best candidates we can for the job. It’s hard for people to believe, but we do not have any candidates in mind. There’s absolutely no one that anybody has any preconceived notions about.”

Mark Manchin, the director of the state School Building Authority and a cousin of Sen. Manchin, announced in January that he will step down to become superintendent of Harrison County Schools. He says he’s also a “no” for the state job.

“I’m not interested. It would be an honor, but I have no intentions,” Mark Manchin said. “Given the way everything is, it just would never work.”

Manchin competed for the job in 2011, and was among the three finalists, but lost to Marple, former superintendent of Kanawha County Schools — the state’s largest school district.

Former Gov. Bob Wise, now president of the national Alliance for Excellent Education, did not return phone calls for comment, but an official in his office said he has been asked to serve on the superintendent selection committee.

Carolyn Long, president at WVU-Tech and a former state superintendent finalist, said Friday, through a spokeswoman, that she is not interested in the position.

Other potential candidates are: former Gov. Gaston Caperton, who recently oversaw the national College Board, which administers the SAT; Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring, also a former finalist; and Monongalia County Schools Superintendent Frank Devono, former superintendent of the year who oversees one of the state’s largest school districts.

The Board of Education will meet in regular session Wednesday.