CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Twenty years ago, the state's teachers unions were outraged when the West Virginia Board of Education voted to lower the education experience requirements for county superintendents, fearing it would lead to "good old boys" hiring practices and a surge of superintendents with no background in public schools.
Today, some teachers' union members are fighting the same push by the Board of Education -- this time, to ease requirements to become state superintendent of schools. Others are saying the requirements aren't strict enough.
Current state code requires that the state superintendent have at least a master's degree in education administration in addition to five years of experience in public school work and a "recognized ability as a school administrator."
The board voted last week to conduct a nationwide search for a new state superintendent after Jorea Marple was abruptly terminated in November. Randolph County superintendent Jim Phares is serving as state superintendent in the interim.
Some board members believe the requirements are too specific and will narrow the pool for candidates. The board plans to ask the legislature to alter state code to alleviate that specificity in time for the national search.
Board member Lloyd Jackson called the detailed requirements "inappropriate" and "wrong" and questioned if a national search will be effective if the law is not changed.
"Hospitals figured out a long time ago that the best doctors don't always make the best administrators," he said. "I don't think we ought to be on the side of status quo -- we should be on the side of change. If we keep resisting, we'll get what we've always got. A national search all starts with whether the Legislature is going to accommodate us. You can only imagine the names of the people who have been involved in education and don't qualify because of the statute."
Mary Poling, chair of the House Education Committee, said not only are the current requirements sensible -- but they might not be strict enough.
"I don't think those requirements seem unreasonable. Such a high-level position usually requires a Ph.D. I'm actually surprised it's not a doctorate in educational administration," she said. "With all the talk about an essential component of student success being highly qualified teachers, and then to talk about reducing the qualifications for state superintendent, seems contradictory to me."
In 1991, the Board of Education, under superintendent Hank Marockie, faced a similar controversial policy change, when it voted to allow county boards to hire anyone with a master's degree and three years of management experience -- in any type of business -- to become a superintendent or principal.
Protesters, including the state's American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association, referred to the watered-down certification policy as "the Taco Bell degree," and said it created potential for "political abuse."
Board of Education members faced problems with the requirements again years later, in 2000, when they couldn't hire their top pick to replace Marockie, an associate superintendent from Illinois, because he didn't have a master's in education administration.
WVEA president Dale Lee has been at the forefront of present-day allegations of politics in the Department of Education -- blaming "a Manchin faction" on the state board for Marple's sudden termination and Phares' speedy appointment.
A pending petition before the West Virginia Supreme Court alleges that the board violated open-meeting laws and unfairly fired Marple for personal reasons tied to contracts with certain companies.