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Seat on state school board still empty after 16 months

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va.  –  It’s been a full 16 months since Priscilla Haden resigned from the West Virginia Board of Education and there’s no word when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

Haden was one of two members to step down effective Dec. 31, 2012. In their resignation letters, both Haden and Jenny Phillips, of Elkins, cited their displeasure with board’s abrupt firing of state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple the month before.

Less than a month after Phillips’ departure from the board, Tomblin announced he’d appointed Tina Combs, the executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, to replace her.

State Sen. John Unger, who had long lobbied Tomblin to select someone from the Eastern Panhandle the next time a vacancy on the state board occurred, said this week he’ll push Tomblin to quickly name a replacement for Haden.

Though he said he’s unaware of a time when the state school board included two members from the Eastern Panhandle, he said he will suggest Tomblin select someone from Jefferson County for the vacancy.

The state board is nonpartisan but because Haden is a registered Republican, her replacement must also be of that party.

In her resignation, Haden – who worked as a teacher in Monongalia, Wood and Kanawha counties before joining the board in 2003 – urged Tomblin to appoint a new board member who is from the Eastern Panhandle in order to represent the Second Congressional District, according to 2012 article in The Charleston Gazette.

Though separated by 300 miles, Kanawha County and the Panhandle are in the same congressional district. “If you follow the law, the two new board members should be Republicans from the Second Congressional District,” Haden told the Gazette.

Multiple calls to the governor’s press office for a comment on why Haden’s seat has remained vacant for so long weren’t returned.

The state board has a number of big issues on its plate, including selecting a permanent replacement for Marple. When Jim Phares was tapped as state superintendent in late 2012, the board vowed to launch a national search to fill the position. Earlier this month, Phares announced he’ll retire effective June 30, the end of the fiscal year — the same day that an Iowa firm was hired to conduct a national search for a state schools chief.

Marple’s lawsuits over her firing have yet to be heard in court. She alleges the board violated the state’s open meetings laws in firing her and also engaged in forbidden closed-door discussions about ousting her.

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