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Lawmakers question appointment of education chief

Unable to quiz the commissioner, board member gets a grilling

Posted: March 29, 2011 - 9:55pm  |  Updated: March 30, 2011 - 11:44am

The Legislature has hoped to depoliticize the state’s Commissioner of Education and Early Development job by handing responsibility for filling the job over to the state Board of Education, but may have made it more political, say some lawmakers.

“It would appear that the Board of Education has sort of abrogated its responsibility,” said Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. “They have just automatically endorsed the governor’s choice.”

The issue arose in the Legislature this week as committees were reviewing Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointments for confirmation.

Education Commissioner Mike Hanley won’t be among those facing confirmation, however. Under state law, the Board of Education appoints the commissioner with confirmation by the governor, an unusual process in Alaska.

After Parnell was elected to a full-term as governor last fall he fired former Commissioner Larry LeDoux and named Hanley to the commissioner post. The Board then quickly appointed Hanley, and the governor then confirmed him.

That’s not the way the process is supposed to work, legislators said.

“I’m seeing a reversal of the process, and I’m concerned about that, said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer.

The issue arose during a Board of Education and Early Development hearing, where Pat Shier was seeking reappointment.

He defended the process by which Hanley got the job, saying the board knew that it could have rejected him and recruited someone different.

He called Hanley an “absolutely fabulous choice.”

It may not matter which method the nominations come from, either the governor or recruitment, Shier said

“I think either one can produce equitable results,” he said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she was concerned about how the appointment process worked, but that wasn’t a criticism of Hanley.

“He may be perfectly wonderful, but it sounds like the process didn’t work the way it was supposed to,” she said.

When the confirmation process focused on Shier he talked of his hope of reducing governmental regulations on teachers and support for non-traditional schools.

“I have not met a teacher who said ‘We don’t have enough regulations,’” Shier said.

His children were “in home school to begin with, in private school for some time, and also in the public school sphere,” he said.

Shier’s appointment will be decided upon by the full Legislature, meeting in joint session.

Shier is Director of Enterprise Technology Services for the State of Alaska.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or Patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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