In another shakeup of Kentucky’s education leadership, the state board of education has elected charter schools advocate Hal Heiner to be its chairman.
Heiner was appointed to the board by Gov. Matt Bevin in April.
“For me, this year marks 22 nearly continuous years of education board service,” Heiner said Thursday morning. “From a P-12 board to a board serving children with learning differences to a post-secondary board, it’s been a labor of love.”
Heiner is an engineer and businessman and has led several organizations that push for opening charter schools in Kentucky and reforming the state’s education system.
He has also been a frequent critic of Jefferson County Public Schools.
Bevin appointed Heiner in April along with three other members, the first time the board was comprised of entirely Bevin appointees.
One of the new board’s first actions was to announce that former Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt would resign from his position two years before his contract was up.
The board quickly hired an interim replacement, University of Kentucky education professor and charter schools advocate Wayne Lewis.
One of Lewis’ first actions was to release a scathing audit of Jefferson County Public Schools and recommend that the state assume control of the district’s management.
Heiner’s advancement comes after the board voted in June to remove a requirement that members serve for at least one year before becoming eligible to be chair.
Gary Houchens was the only board member to oppose the rule change and on Wednesday abstained from voting.
“My concerns don’t have anything to do with Hal’s skills or qualifications,” Houchens said. “In fact, I can think of no one better qualified to be the chairman of this board than Hal Heiner. My concerns are strictly strategic and procedural and therefore I’m going to abstain.”
Heiner replaces Baptist pastor and charter schools advocate Milton Seymore, who will now serve as vice chair.
Boardmember Rich Gimmel said that making Heiner chair was not a political move.
“Those who say this is a political move, I would say that I have heard from no politician about this move at all,” Gimmel said. “Let’s consider the possibility that Hal is the best person for the job.”
In 2015, Heiner lost a four-way Republican primary for governor to Bevin, who later appointed him to be secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
Heiner also narrowly lost the race to be mayor of Louisville in 2010.