CHARLESTON, W.Va. --Competitive bidding is required for nearly all government purchases. It saves taxpayers money because it forces vendors to offer their lowest possible prices to federal, state or local agencies. Usually, West Virginia's bidding law allows exceptions only for emergency orders, or from sole-source providers with no competitors, or purchases too small to bother with bidding.
West Virginia's Board of Education reportedly entered no-bid contracts. Former Superintendent Jorea Marple opposed no-bid deals -- which evidently was a factor in her abrupt, mysterious dismissal.
Did any bidless BOE contracts breach state bidding laws? West Virginians need an answer. State leaders should order an investigation.
Education reporter Mackenzie Mays outlined the situation:
A Supreme Court appeal by Mountain State Justice public-interest law firm said the official explanation for Marple's firing "is clearly pretext for some other illegitimate reason." The court filing cited conflict over the ex-superintendent's opposition to no-bid contracts.
Mountain State lawyer Bren Pomponio, former BOE member Lowell Johnson and Marple-defending board member Priscilla Haden mentioned these issues:
Globaloria -- Board member Gayle Manchin, wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, is an advisor for the computer-based Globaloria social learning network. She helped induce West Virginia to become a pilot state for its use in schools. So far, the BOE has spent more than $1.1 million on Globaloria software. But Manchin reportedly was upset because Marple required that the purchase go through official state bidding.
AmberVision -- This software tracks students who become missing. The Benedum Foundation gave West Virginia $65,000 to scan student photos, and to pay cash prizes to schools recording most pupils. BOE member Lloyd Jackson is a Benedum trustee, and BOE President Wade Linger reportedly has an interest in an AmberVision technology firm.
High-speed Internet -- Dr. Marple wrote a five-page letter protesting the Tomblin administration's "lack of progress" in using federal stimulus money to bring broadband access to West Virginia schools. But BOE member Manchin felt the education agency instead should praise the broadband effort.
Strangely, the $750,000 statewide education audit obtained by the Tomblin administration recommends that the Board of Education be exempt from state bidding laws. Why, for heaven's sake? It also urges giving cabinet secretary Kay Goodwin more power over the supposedly independent BOE. Again, why, for heaven's sake?
Questions linger after the controversial termination of Dr. Marple, an outstanding leader respected by the whole education community. We hope further answers become clear.