Marple's firing and Phares' hiring were surrounded by accusations of political motivations.
State school board President Wade Linger suggested Phares for the position the same day Marple was fired. Phares and Linger worked together in Marion County. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is also from Marion County; as governor, Manchin appointed Linger and several other state school board members, including his own wife, Gayle.
"I'm not politically connected as much as you guys try to make it so," Phares told members of the media at last month's board meeting. "You can't respond to all of the criticism. It's readily apparent there are a lot of forces that want these positive outcomes in West Virginia. I've had the ability to bring those that have been critical of me to work cooperatively and collaboratively."
Phares said he wanted his interview with state school board members in November to be conducted in public to forestall claims of political influence. At that meeting in Lincoln County, board members chose Phares over assistant state superintendent Kathy D'Antoni for the position.
When Phares took the superintendent position in Randolph County, the schools were edging toward a state takeover. Under his watch, full accreditation was returned to the county.
Phares received the West Virginia Superintendent of the Year award in 2007 and was also one of four superintendents considered for the national title the following year.
As state superintendent, Phares will oversee the budget of $2.5 billion. That's something he can handle too, he said.
"I've never had a deficit in any county. When I worked in Pocahontas County, they brought me in because they had $121 at the end of the year. When I finished, we had a carryover between $300,000 and $500,000," Phares said. "We had to change habits and make tough decisions ... and that's what I do."
Board members have said that a nationwide search could be contingent on whether the Legislature agrees to alleviate state code requirements for state superintendent.
Currently, superintendents must have a master's degree in education administration among other public school experience. Some members say those specific requirements are a hindrance when it comes to filling the position, and a nationwide search may not be worth the trouble if state code doesn't change.
Phares' swearing-in is scheduled for 10 a.m. today in the state Board of Education board room, in Building 6 of the state Capitol Complex.
Staff writer Kate Long contributed to this report.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.