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W.Va. BOE president requests review of existing contracts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Board of Education President Wade Linger wants an independent review of all the Department of Education's existing contracts with outside vendors.

Linger's proposal for an audit of the education department's and the state board's purchasing procedures coincides with a pending Supreme Court filing that alleges state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple was fired because of her refusal to support no-bid contracts.

In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, Linger said he planned to present the board with the proposal at a regular board meeting Wednesday in an effort to reassure the public that bidding and purchasing practices are "free from political pressure or individual interest."

Linger intends to ask the West Virginia State Bar to recommend an attorney with no ties to state government or the Department of Education to conduct the review. In Tuesday's statement, Linger urges that the examiner has an understanding of state contracts, state bidding procedures, requests for information, requests for proposals and sole source contracts.

"One of the goals of this independent review will be to confirm that the board and the Department of Education are meeting or exceeding the rules and regulations pertaining to the bidding and purchasing practices for state agencies," Linger said in the statement. "I believe that it is extremely important for county boards of education, county administrators, teachers, students, parents and taxpayers to have confidence that the Board and the Department are following the rules and regulations put in place by our legislators."

In addition to conducting the review, which is expected to take four months, the examiner also will be tasked with evaluating practices and procedures in purchasing and providing guidance to the state board for entering into future contracts.

A lawyer for Mountain State Justice, the public interest group challenging Marple's firing in court, said the no-bid contracts in question included those with Globaloria, a social learning network, and AmberVision, a program that helps find missing children.

The lawyer, Bren Pomponio, who is representing parents of a Boone County student, said he was told that certain board members had personal interests in those companies and did not support Marple's belief in the bidding process.

Board of Education member Gayle Manchin, the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., serves as the co-chairwoman of the Globaloria-WV Advisory Board and was among those who pushed for the state to implement the program.

Idit Caperton, the wife of former governor Gaston Caperton, founded the company.

Board member Mike Green, who has a small investment in the company that created AmberVision, has denied any ties to the allegations. Linger, who has a background in the technology business, has also denied accusations that he had a financial interest in the AmberVision program.

Jason Hodge, treasurer and secretary for the AmberVision Foundation, confirmed Tuesday that the nonprofit has never had a contract with the West Virginia Department of Education.

"AmberVision has never had a contract with the state Board of Education, no-bid or otherwise. It has always been free to West Virginians," he said. "We never received a nickel from the Board of Education. Allegations to the contrary are unfounded. How can you have a problem with a no-bid contract that doesn't exist?"

The board must agree to the independent contracts review, which will be discussed today at a meeting at Lincoln County High School at 10:30 a.m.

"The governor's education audit allowed us to recognize areas in which we are succeeding and areas that need improvement. The board must lead and chart the path forward as we provide ideas, direction, inspiration and the supervision necessary to create a strong educational system for our students. The request for an independent review of contracts is an example of our hands-on approach," Linger said.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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