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Published in Print: January 26, 2000, as Longtime W. Va. Chief Is Focus of Inquiries

Longtime W. Va. Chief Is Focus of Inquiries

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Early last month, Henry Marockie, the longtime state superintendent of schools in West Virginia, was one of two finalists for the top job in the Clark County, Nev., school district. A few days later, Mr. Marockie's candidacy was dead. A few days after that, federal, state, and local officials had launched investigations into his financial affairs.

Now, while Mr. Marockie waits out the investigations, the Clark County board again wrestles with finding someone to head the nation's fastest-growing and eighth-largest school system, which includes Las Vegas. Not only did Mr. Marockie withdraw his name in the midst of questions about his veracity and salary demands, but the other finalist, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Redden, pulled out as well.

How a search for a new superintendent that seemed to be going so right could end so badly says a lot about the complications of the process but nothing about the integrity of the people involved, Mr. Marockie asserted.

"It really got all tangled, but it was nobody's fault," said the 63-year-old superintendent, who had announced his resignation from the state schools chief's job about a year ago. "[I] haven't done anything wrong, and [I'm] cooperating with" the investigators, he said last week.

Ruth Johnson, who was the president of the Clark County board during that round of the search and remains a board member, said that Mr. Marockie had inflated his state superintendent's salary during an interview with her and two other board members and had refused to provide specifics about expense-account money.

"Maybe he was trying to build himself up so it wouldn't look like he was making so much of a jump" with the salary he was requesting, she said.

Mr. Marockie is under investigation by the U.S. attorney in Charleston, W.Va., the West Virginia legislature's Commission on Special Investigations, and the Kanawha County prosecutor's office, according to a spokeswoman for him, Kim Nuzum-Lawrence.

None of the officials would comment on the investigations, but they apparently stem from concerns raised in the both the West Virginia and Nevada press that Mr. Marockie made contradictory statements about how much he is paid and failed to be forthcoming about a private fund he drew on for job-related expenses.

Trouble for the West Virginia superintendent started when Clark County school board members, then beginning discussions about a possible contract for him, understood that he earned a salary of $146,000 and received a housing allowance and country club membership as perks. The board members soon learned that Mr. Marockie's salary was $100,000 and that he had no such perks.

The state chief denied last week that he had provided the wrong information. Rather, he said, he had calculated how much additional money he would need in Las Vegas to match the quality of his life in West Virginia, arriving at a figure of about $42,000. He conveyed to the board that his current salary was thus the equivalent of $142,000, he said.

Further confusing matters, he added, is that a new law allows the West Virginia superintendent to be paid up to $146,000.

Doubts Mounted

According to Mr. Marockie, consultant William Attea of the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates of Glenview, Ill., corrected the figure, but by that time Clark County board members were expressing frustration and doubt over the search.

Mr. Marockie said he withdrew his name mainly because he and the board were too far apart on salary. "I felt [the job] was worth $250,000" in base salary, given the Nevada district's enrollment of 217,000, he said.

Ms. Johnson agreed that board members balked at the $250,000 request, which far exceeds the $158,000 that Superintendent Brian Cram earns.

But Ms. Johnson added that Mr. Marockie's withdrawal might also have been related to "his assumption that the board would keep asking those questions" about an expense account that he mentioned.

Tax records show that over the past decade, Mr. Marockie has spent just over $99,000 from a "Superintendent's Fund" established in 1983 by an organization now known as the Education Alliance of West Virginia, according to Charleston press reports. The Charleston-based alliance, an advocacy group for the state's schools that includes business and community members, discontinued the fund last summer.

The fund was originally set up to allow the state chief to bring renowned educators to the state, but gradually more job-related purposes were permitted. In 1995, the fund's overseers concluded it had strayed too far from its original purposes, and the rules governing it were tightened. In the previous three years, Mr. Marockie had spent close to $20,000 annually from the fund. Last year, the superintendent was reimbursed about $3,500 from the fund.

The superintendent said the fund was "very, very helpful" in meeting travel expenses and sending flowers to bereaved members of his staff, for instance, but that he had never used it to pay for housing or for country club dues, as some Clark County board members thought. Officials of the alliance declined comment.

Early this month, the West Virginia board of education issued a statement saying that board members were satisfied that Mr. Marockie had not misused state or education alliance money. "We are deeply saddened," the statement read, "if recent allegations and insinuations have cast a shadow on the Mountain State and this superintendent's exemplary record of service to West Virginia's students."

The Clark County school board expects to interview two new candidates in March. Mr. Marockie, who has held his state post since 1989 said he was continuing to look for a new job.

Vol. 19, Issue 20, Pages 14,18

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