Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. hasn't appointed an education deputy after a summer-long search, leaving public school officials and advocates curious — and nervous.
Some in education circles believe no one has been named because of money and the administration's support of the tuition tax credits concept, which most public education officials and several legislators publicly oppose.
The current education deputy, Tim Bridgewater, is a volunteer.
He said the process has been somewhat stymied by summer vacations. But he says a new deputy is expected to be announced within the next two weeks.
"It's government, it's bureaucracy, and it's slow," Bridgewater said. "We've interviewed numerous candidates from various backgrounds and are in the process of working out potential contract issues with one candidate."
Huntsman three months ago told the Deseret Morning News editorial board he was looking to make the public education deputy a full-time, paid position. He said it would take a month or two to fill, and said Bridgewater, who runs a consulting company, has served well.
Hope Eccles continues as a volunteer deputy over higher education.
Former Gov. Mike Leavitt had a full-time, paid education deputy over public and higher education.
Public school advocates liked it better that way.
"While we appreciate the time Mr. Bridgewater has put in, to take something as important as public education and say, 'I have a volunteer position overlooking public education . . .' doesn't put public education at the level of importance we believe it deserves," said Pat Rusk, president of the Utah Education Association.
Utah Superintendents Association executive director Gary Cameron fears the lengthy process hurts access. "We haven't had the ongoing contact we've always had and feel we need."
He suggests the matter boils down to funds and philosophy.
"I believe the salary allocated to the position is less than superintendents have been paid, so why would anyone want to be in that position for lesser salary?" he said. "(Huntsman) certainly wants a person who aligns with his philosophy, but his position on tuition tax credits is contrary to that of most people in public education. I think that has complicated the process."
Bridgewater says the deputy's salary would range from $70,000 to $80,000.
"I think money has been a factor for some of the candidates, but (they) didn't say they couldn't do it because of money," instead citing current contracts, Bridgewater said. "With candidates we've talked with, (tuition tax credits) hasn't been an obstacle; most have been comfortable with championing the governor's agenda," which includes boosting high school rigor and student achievement.
Candidates, many of whose names were forwarded to the governor's office by others, include current and retired superintendents, legislators and teachers, Bridgewater said. One candidate is from Wyoming.
"All are highly qualified candidates; it's a matter of getting a good fit and chemistry with the governor's office and staff and the governor's education vision and agenda," Bridgewater said.
At least one candidate identified as a front-runner has withdrawn from the process, Bridgewater confirmed.