State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox fired three Department of Education administrators Tuesday, including the supervisor of millions of dollars in federal special education funding and the man who wrote three decades of science curricula for Idaho public schools.
“It was complete and total shock,” Richard Kay, the department’s science/environmental education consultant for more than 32 years, said after spending the day cleaning out his office. “They said it’s effective immediately and that payroll had already been notified.”
Besides Kay, those fired Tuesday morning in what appeared to be a partisan purge by the new Republican administration, were special education supervisor Fred Balcom and food services consultant Luan York.
Kay, 63, had already qualified for state retirement but was not ready to give up the job he loves.
“I work with the greatest people in the world and I enjoy what I do and I just don’t want to retire right now,” he said. “I’m single. I don’t have a family. And my job was my whole life.”
Kay contributed $198 to the campaign of Fox’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 8 election, Willie Sullivan. Balcom also contributed $150 to Sullivan’s campaign. York was not listed on Sullivan’s campaign finance reports and she could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Terry Haws, Fox’s campaign manager and now chief deputy superintendent, said he was unaware of the campaign contributions and that the politics of those fired played no role in the decision to fire them. He said their job performance also was not a factor.
“The people voted Anne in to make a positive change and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Haws said. “These people evidently have done a marvelous job with the past administration’s philosophy. Anne is coming in here with a new direction and a new philosophy.”
However, Haws could not say how the three administrators’ philosophies differed from Fox’s. He said Fox would choose people to fill all three jobs.
Fox succeeded fellow Republican Jerry Evans, who retired after 16 years as superintendent. Evans endorsed neither Fox nor Sullivan.
Kay and Balcom said they were given no reason for their firings other than that they served at the superintendent’s pleasure and Fox had decided not to keep them on.
Balcom said he suspected the contributions to Sullivan played a part, but that there was no response to his requests to meet with Fox during the past month.
“My guess is that I was active in political campaigns that might not have matched her particular interest,” he said. “I’m naturally angry that I didn’t have a chance even to have a conversation with Dr. Fox, frustrated that this decision was obviously made some time ago and I wasn’t given the opportunity to be given two weeks notice.”
Balcom, paid about $50,000 a year for the job he took 2 years ago, administered about $12 million a year in federal grants - about 80 percent of which went directly to local school districts. He also was responsible for compliance with federal laws on treatment of disabled children in schools.
Kay, who made about $47,000 a year, wrote every public school science curricula the Department of Education has ever had. The first was in 1965 and they were updated every five years. He also managed a number of science education grant and scholarship programs.
Phil Gerrish, a science teacher at O’Leary Junior High School in Twin Falls, has been contacted by Fox’s office about a position with the Education Department involving science curricula. Gerrish, an advocate of “creation science,” sparked controversy in Twin Falls by teaching creationism along with evolution in the 1980s.