The current process of sharing legal help with the department puts employees in "a compromising and sensitive position," Linger said.
Board member Gayle Manchin, wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., supported the suggestion.
"You are asking a person to work between two worlds," she said. "In most states, state boards have their own legal counsel, separate from the department of education."
However, other members expressed concern about the cost of adding another salary to the board. The board already has hired an outside consultant to help draft the response to the audit, as per Linger's request, and has been paying the new staffer $350 a day since August.
Among its suggestions, the audit calls for "right-sizing" the department and cites too much administrative overhead.
"Perception is sometimes reality. The very thing in the audit was about the Department of Education being too big and having too much personnel. So, the board has added a special assistant and now an attorney? Are we falling into adding staff when the audit says the department has too much staff?" Phillips said. "The public sees us doing one thing on one hand and something completely different on the other."
Board member Bill White understood Phillip's apprehension.
"We need to be clear why we're doing it so that the public knows," he said.
Haden considered Linger's suggestion a direct insult to the two attorneys already working for the board.
"We can trust our legal counsel," she said. "Do we not trust the Attorney General's Office or do we not get the answer we always want? I cannot support this. I think our attorneys simply read the law, and they don't interpret their personal views."
Linger said the board needs an additional attorney because it helps create a more clear distinction between the board and the Department of Education.
"The paradigm is the thought process that comes with the view that we are part of the Department of Education. The Board of Education is a separate constitutional entity. The department is two layers down from us on the organizational chart," he said. "Very well-intentioned and honest people could be put in a position where they have to make a decision whether they want to recommend a position the board is trying to take that conflicts with the people who write their paychecks. That's not fair to them."
Board member Michael Green asked to look further into the proposal.
"It has nothing to do with trust," he said. "It has to do with knowing the facts -- like how much it's going to cost."
Lowell Johnson, who served on the board for nine years before his term expired earlier this month, said Marple was moving the education department in the right direction before she was fired and that this was another example of Linger making "a power grab."
"The two attorneys at the Department of Education are telling him he can't do it that way, so he wants somebody to tell him he can," Johnson said. "[Marple] had already reduced 20 staff members in the department. She was working to downsize.
"The problems in the audit weren't her fault," Johnson added. "What was it that she needed to do? What more can a superintendent do?"
Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.