Commissioner's resignation riles education board

Posted: Monday, November 29, 2010

The election of Gov. Sean Parnell to his own term in office resulted in a widespread call for resignations of top administration staff that's so extensive, he's even demanding resignations from people who don't work for him.

Larry LeDoux, commissioner of Education and Early Development, works for the state Board of Education and Early Development, not for Parnell, according to state law.

The ouster of LeDoux came as a surprise to board members and legislators who follow education issues closely, and was a disappointment to many as well.

"I'm a bit disconcerted because I think Larry has done a great job and I think he's got a great relationship with the board and with the Legislature," said Janel Keplinger, a board member from Kodiak.

Fellow board member Jim Merriner of Anchorage said he was disappointed Parnell would take such an action.

"I fully support the current commissioner, and what he's doing to effect change in a positive way for Alaska's students," Merriner said.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and co-chairman of the House Education Committee, said he wasn't sure why Parnell wanted a new commissioner.

"I have no idea if there was any friction -- I never saw it if there was," he said.

In the last legislative session, LeDoux aggressively pushed for Parnell's scholarship plan, which was adopted by the Legislature. The plan wasn't funded, however, but legislators say they expect that to happen in the upcoming session in time to pay scholarships.

Seaton said he doubted the scholarship plan played a role in LeDoux' replacement.

"I thought he advanced it well," Seaton said, "Maybe the governor wants to go a different direction."

Board Chair Esther Cox of Anchorage said she was unaware of Parnell's reasons for replacing LeDoux.

"I'm surprised -- I think he's done a very good job and I was very pleased with the thing's he's done," she said.

Parnell's press secretary Sharon Leighow said the governor did not explain why he wanted LeDoux' resignation, but said in some cases he was looking for fresh leadership.

LeDoux, formerly superintendent of Kodiak Island Borough School District, was appointed by the board in 2008, and approved by then-Gov. Sarah Palin in April of that year.

When Palin became governor, Roger Sampson, who was then the commissioner, stayed on. After he left for a national position, the board selected LeDoux.

Only one other of the state's commissioner positions, the commissioner of Fish and Game, works for the respective board instead of the governor. Current commissioner Denby Lloyd had already announced his retirement prior to Parnell's demand for resignations letters from all of the state's top administrators.

Leighow declined to discuss Parnell's legal authority for demanding LeDoux' resignation, but cited a state law that says all principal executive officers serve at the pleasure of the governor.

She did not address a separate statute adopted by the Legislature that states the Board of Education and Early Development appoints the commissioner, and "the commissioner serves at the pleasure of the board and may not be appointed for a fixed term."

Board Chair Esther Cox said even if the board has the authority to hire and fire the commissioner, rather than the governor, it is important the commissioner has the confidence of the governor.

The board will likely discuss the issue at its December meeting, she said, and will try to determine what Parnell wants in a commissioner.

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