Senate Democrats block speedy education appointment

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski will have to wait a little longer to appoint the state's next education commissioner.

The state Board of Education picked two former Alaska educators as finalists for the post on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the governor said Murkowski had hoped to make his pick soon, but will be delayed by a bill to preserve their retirement benefits.

That measure, House Bill 140, would have allowed the two candidates to return to state service without paying a penalty in their retirement benefits.

The Senate approved it but Democrats voted against the bill's immediate effective date. As a result, it would go into effect 90 days after the governor signs it.

Senate Democrats said the governor should use the 90 days to consider more applicants. In the meantime, they want retired teachers included in the incentive.

I don't know if they are trying to make a statement here or trying to find a way to embarrass the governor,'' said Murkowski spokesman John Manly.

Former Alaska school superintendent H. Fred Pomeroy and Roger Sampson, a longtime educator who was superintendent of the Chugach School District, are the two applicants. The state Board of Education chose the two Tuesday, said education department spokesman Harry Gamble.

Pomeroy was superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District from 1979 to 1989. More recently he was executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators.

Sampson worked as superintendent of Chugach School District from 1994 to 2000.

Both would be affected by the bill supported by Murkowski. The state board is expected to forward a final recommendation to the governor May 9. The appointment is not submitted to the Legislature for approval.

Currently, those who participated in teachers' or public employees' retirement incentive programs must pay 110 percent of extra benefits they received if they go back to work for the government.

Under the bill, they would not have to pay that penalty. They could continue to receive pensions but not accrue additional benefits.

Manly said the applicants could be required to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 in benefits to take the state's top education spot. Former Education Commissioner Shirley Holloway had to pay such a penalty, said Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.

Senate Democrats proposed the governor back legislation that would extend such a perk to retired teachers willing to return to the classroom.

Alaska faces a teacher shortage in both urban and rural schools and Murkowski should support a proposal to address it, Ellis said.

That should be something that should concern the governor as well, beyond the person he is having a hard time hiring for commissioner of education,'' Ellis said.

Manly said the governor wanted to keep the focus of the bill on hiring the next commissioner. The education commissioner is the last vacancy remaining in the governor's cabinet.

But he said if Democrats, who are the minority party in both Houses of the Legislature, want to win support for a bill to include retired teachers we would take a look at it,'' Manly said.

But such a measure could have financial implications for the state's pension system, he said.

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