Fill State School Board Vacancy

With a major public school improvement campaign in progress, the West Virginia Board of Education needs all hands on deck. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin can ensure that happens.

It was pointed out this week there has been a vacancy on the 12-member board for more than a year. And, later this year, there will be another one.

After the board fired former state school Superintendent Jorea Marple in December 2012, one of its members, Priscilla Haden, resigned in protest. Her position still has not been filled.

Tomblin must appoint a new member. A spokesman for his office said he is reviewing the law regarding a replacement.

One requirement is that the new board member be a Republican from the state’s Second Congressional District. Board members cannot be state or federal employees or serve on political party executive committees.

Those provisions are intended to avoid the appearance that politics plays a role in appointments and board actions, of course. But West Virginians are not naive enough to believe politics will not be part of the governor’s thinking.

But Tomblin has had nearly a year and a half to select a successor to Haden. Surely a qualified, dedicated person could have been found in that amount of time.

One reason for Tomblin to choose an appointee quickly is that the board is in the process – unfortunately also long and drawn-out – of selecting a new state school superintendent. James Phares, who has held the position on an interim basis since shortly after Marple was fired, has said he will retire this summer.

In part to help with the process of hiring a new superintendent – and, again, because the board needs all the help it can get to improve schools in West Virginia – Tomblin should expedite the process of filling the vacancy.

At the same time, he should begin considering a successor for board member Robert Dunlevy, of Wheeling, whose term expires later this year.

The governor certainly has plenty on his plate in terms of appointments to state boards and commissions. There are an estimated 172 vacancies on which he must make decisions.

But the state Board of Education is among the most important decision-making bodies in the state. Tomblin should make it a top priority.