CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jim Phares is not denying his connections to members of the West Virginia Board of Education but says any accusations that the board had ulterior motives in speedily recommending him to become the next superintendent are "just nonsensical balderdash."
Jorea Marple, who was appointed as superintendent last March, was unexpectedly fired without a given reason in a regular board meeting on Thursday by a vote of 5-2.
Later that same day, state Board of Education President Wade Linger called an emergency meeting to appoint an interim superintendent and announced his plans to recommend Phares, Randolph County's superintendent, for the permanent position next week.
Marple said her abrupt termination is solely political, and now many people are questioning why a more thorough search isn't being conducted for her replacement.
Some are pointing to Phares' ties to Marion County. Sen. Joe Manchin, his wife, Gayle, a state school board member, and Linger are all natives of Fairmont.
Teachers union leaders such as Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, are blaming the "Manchin faction" for Marple's sudden ousting.
Phares served as the superintendent of Marion County schools in the early 2000s, where he worked with Linger.
Linger, who has a background in business and computer programming, worked on a Local School Improvement Council in the area and often provided input on school business, Phares said.
"I know Senator Manchin and Mrs. Manchin and, yes, I know Wade. Wade has been very cognizant of my work in Marion County, and sure, the Manchins were, too," Phares said. "I guess, if people want to put ties together, they can. It doesn't surprise me."
Phares, who worked as a teacher and a coach in Virginia for 25 years before serving as superintendent in Pocahontas and Marion counties, plans to offer his resignation as Randolph County superintendent at a county board meeting on Monday. He said his resignation would be effective at the end of the day Wednesday.
"I'm humbled and honored I'm being considered. I won't hesitate at all in meeting the challenges that are coming up. This is a critical time," he said. "I plan on being in Charleston on Wednesday and becoming a full partner with the Department of Education, the state board, the Legislature and the Governor's Office."
Phares said it is too soon for him to talk about his plans if he's appointed, but he said the governor's education audit and the board's prolonged response -- which is to be released Wednesday -- will be at the forefront.
"There are recommendations and action steps that need to be put in place, and that's what I'm hoping to do. I would strongly be committed to making that [audit] response," he said. "The first important step is to adopt a vision together. It will become readily apparent what the priorities are and what that vision might be, but it's premature for me to comment at this time."
Phares said he did not want to comment about the public displeasure with the unorthodox way Marple was terminated but said he has had a positive relationship with her in the past.
Although Phares has been vocal in his criticisms of the state's data system and other parts of Marple's leadership, he commended her strides in children nutrition, calling it "a tremendous benefit" for his county.
"Personally, I had a great deal of respect for Dr. Marple. She laid a strong foundation for personalized learning, and we've had a good relationship over the years. But, the superintendency is a unique situation, and you have to understand that you serve at the will and pleasure of a board," he said. "When they want to take a new direction, no matter what your performance is, it has to happen. That occurs all the time in business.