After Republican Gov. Matt Bevin remade the 12-member state Board of Education, the Kentucky Education Association Monday night predicted the group would fire the education commissioner Tuesday.
The KEA called on educators to support Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, who was hired when the board of education was controlled by appointees of former Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.
The association of teachers was concerned because the board of education will meet in executive session Tuesday to discuss an employee matter, a news release said Monday.
“We ... believe that Dr. Pruitt has been a strong and effective advocate for Kentucky’s public schools and for public school teachers and should be allowed to continue as commissioner,” the KEA’s Facebook post said.
The KEA, which has boosted its profile with recent mass protests over public school funding and educator pensions, asked its members to show support for Pruitt by sharing an image of a news release about the meeting. Dozens responded on Facebook with comments of support.
Another group, Save Our Schools Kentucky, which has been lobbying members of the General Assembly, sent a message to its members Tuesday saying it anticipates that the board “will remove Dr. Stephen Pruitt from his position and appoint Dr. Wayne Lewis, chair of the Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council, as an interim leader until they find who they believe to be a suitable education commissioner to support their school choice agenda, which Save Our Schools Kentucky believes to be destabilizing to public education in Kentucky.”
“The only way to stop this from happening is to contact the Kentucky Board of Education members and respectfully ask them to retain Commissioner Pruitt in his current position to provide stability to the Kentucky Department of Education and to continue his dedicated work for Kentucky's Schools and school children, during a traumatizing fiscal and political climate,” the message said.
Vice Chairman Rich Gimmel, who was previously appointed by Bevin, declined to tell the Herald-Leader Monday if Pruitt would be fired or told to quit. Pruitt’s office declined to comment.
“I will say I have the highest regard for Dr. Pruitt as an education professional,”said Gimmel, who is chairman of Atlas Machine and Supply Inc. in Louisville. “He’s done a masterful job for the past two years leading us through the difficult process of establishing new assessment and accountability standards which were mandated by the federal government. He is a man of tremendous integrity, work ethic and passion for students.”
“I can tell you that, for some time now, the dialogue in Frankfort has been driven by the adults, and frankly, we adults sometimes haven’t acted very adult-like,” Gimmel said. “My hope is that the focus will now turn to the kids. We haven’t been able to improve their academic outcomes, as a whole, in many Kentucky school districts for quite some time now. In fact, some have worsened significantly. My hope is that we can work with and support teachers, maybe in some new ways — looking at best practices around the country — to improve outcomes in the classroom.”
Bevin on Monday issued an executive order appointing seven new members to the board, including Hal Heiner, former Education and Workforce Development secretary, and the governor’s former communications director, Amanda Stamper. Heiner resigned his cabinet secretary job to take the new post. All seven seats were vacant as of Friday because the terms expired.
Bevin previously was able to name Gimmel and three others to the board that develops policies governing Kentucky’s 173 school districts and the Kentucky Department of Education, so his appointees now have full control. The president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, Robert King, serves by law as a non-voting member of the board.
Herald-Leader staff writer Jack Brammer contributed to this report.