FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Commissioner of Education Dr. Stephen Pruitt's resignation was announced after a five-hour special meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education (BOE) on Tuesday.
Pruitt tendered his resignation to the board effective immediately. He also relinquished his rights to a 90-day written notice of termination. He will receive his salary for the next 90 days, according to his amended contract. However, he will not be involved in any decisions or policy making from this day forward.
Pruitt was named commissioner in October 2015, when the BOE was under the control of appointees named by former Gov. Steve Beshear.
The board said it did not find any grounds for Pruitt's dismissal based on his performance.
Tuesday's meeting also saw the selection of a new chairperson. Milton Seymore, who was previously appointed to the BOE by Gov. Matt Bevin, was sworn into the role.
Chairman Seymore rebuked the idea Dr. Pruitt was pushed out of his role as commissioner. He said the change was about "taking things to another level and in a new direction."
Seymore cited falling test scores across the state and limitations of urban schools to further explain his point.
The fact that Pruitt resigned was somewhat of a surprise. WAVE 3 News reporters who spoke with the former commissioner knew he was passionate about his position and wanted to continue as long as the board wanted to keep him.
After announcing Pruitt's resignation, the board named Dr. Wayne Lewis as the interim Commissioner of Education.
Lewis is an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, though he told reporters he will resign to accept the role of interim commissioner. He was also the Executive Director of Education Policy and Programs for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, from which he also resigned.
Dr. Lewis served as the Chair of the Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council, as well, and was a non-voting advisor to the Kentucky Board of Education.
Pegasus Institute Co-executive Director Jordan Harris is a school choice advocate who believes the new board and director want all options on the table.
"Things like scholarship tax credits, things like charter schools," Harris explained. "(The board) believes in creating those other options and putting other options in place."
In a 2016 interview with KET, Dr. Lewis discussed charter schools saying, "A healthy dose of competition is needed for us to move forward."
He told reporters Gov. Bevin did not talk to him about his interest in the role of Commissioner of Education before he was selected. Lewis said he knew his name was in the "rumor mill," but didn't know what would happen.
Lewis will get a $150,000 salary.
The board will now search for a permanent commissioner.
Seven new members of the BOE were appointed by Bevin and sworn in during Tuesday's special meeting, including Hal Heiner, who resigned a position in the governor's cabinet to take the position.
Here is the full list of Bevin's new appointees:
- Ben Cundiff
- Tracey Cusick
- Kathy Gornik
- Hal Heiner
- Joe Papalia
- Amanda Stamper
- Laura Timberlake
The BOE consists of 11 members who serve four-year terms. With the addition of these seven, the entire board now consists of people appointed by Bevin.
These changes come as the largest school district in the state awaits the results of a state audit. Lewis said he doesn't know why the state audit of Jefferson County Public Schools has taken so long, and he intends to wrap it up as soon as possible.
The finding of that audit may result in the recommendation for a state takeover of the district.
JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio issued this statement:
House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins shared the following statement, calling the shake up a "backhanded" political move:
The Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bowman also issued a statement shortly after Pruitt's resignation: