Robert Baker, a Beckley lawyer, warned the five anti-Marple board members they could face criminal misdemeanor charges by willfully flouting the open meetings law. He cited the conviction of his county's school board members 30 years ago for such a violation. Baker also said that the convictions were later overturned on a technicality.
"When you don't put something on the agenda and then deal with, you essentially shut the door on all the people who wanted to come and talk about that issue," said Baker.
Baker later prompted applause from the standing-room-only audience when he added that "You can't reconsider an illegal act and thereby make it legal."
The speakers also sought detailed reasons for Marple's firing, with several alleging political backroom dealings. As Linger did Thursday, board members had earlier cited the need for a change. One, Gayle Manchin, has also said her vote reflected her desire to embrace the recent audit of West Virginia's public schools system and concerns over a deep-seated culture she finds at the state Department of Education.
Commissioned by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the audit described a system with plenty of bureaucrats and ample funding but short on accountability and results. Its scores of recommendations seek to refocus staff, dollars and other resources to improve chronically lagging student performance. The proposals call on the state to shift control and money to the 55 county school systems and reduce seniority's weight in teacher hiring and promotion, among other actions.
The board endorsed all but a handful of the recommendations at a meeting last week, and presented its response to the audit to a House-Senate education subcommittee on Tuesday. That response lists more than 70 actions carried out under Marple drawn from or otherwise inspired by the audit's recommendations, something noted by several speakers Thursday.