OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has decided to replace half of the Washington Student Achievement Council, surprising state lawmakers and raising questions about the direction of a newly formed board charged with writing a road map for higher education.
“It’s a substantial disappointment to have worked so hard, to have made some very positive contributions and to be moving toward some very constructive recommendations, and then to have that stopped in mideffort,” said former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, the ousted chairman. “It’s frustrating.”
Baird, who served with Inslee in Congress for 12 years, and the three other members being replaced were appointed by former Gov. Chris Gregoire last summer and were moving through the confirmation process. They found out about Inslee’s decision just hours before they were scheduled to get a vote in the Senate Higher Education Committee.
“Of course the governor has a right to choose whoever he wants,” said state Sen. David Frockt, a Seattle Democrat who sits on that committee. “But yes, I was surprised.”
Inslee spokesman David Postman downplayed the move, saying the governor’s decision was “not a judgment on the people who have served or their ideas about higher education.”
“He wants to bring in his team and bring in new people with new ideas,” Postman said.
Postman said the governor is vetting candidates and expects to name appointees before the regular legislative session ends April 28. The state Senate is required to approve the nominees.
Until then, the nine-member council — now down to five — is being led by its student member, Lindsey Jahn, a senior at Washington State University.
Two members said they expect to continue working on the road map, although they may miss their December deadline.
But some higher-education advocates expressed concern about the shake-up given the fledging nature of the council.
The group was formed in August as a replacement to the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board, which some saw as unfocused.
The council got fewer assignments and initially focused on developing the road map, a 10-year plan for improving high education.
After a 10-city listening tour, the council narrowed its scope to five areas: college readiness, education costs, capacity and outcomes, technology, and funding.
The council is made up of five gubernatorial appointees, who include the student member, plus representatives from the state K-12 education office, the four-year universities, the community colleges and private schools.
The four replaced members were Baird; former Seattle Community College District Board Chairwoman Constance Rice; former state Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission chairman José Gaitán; and Jay Reich, former deputy chief of staff to Gary Locke when he served as Commerce secretary in the Obama administration.
State Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom called the members being replaced “eminently qualified.”
“It’s strange,” Tom, a Medina Democrat who caucuses with the GOP, said of Inslee’s decision. “We can’t understand that one.”
Fellow maverick Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon, of Potlatch, who has served for 16 years, said he can’t remember another appointee nominated under an old governor replaced in the middle of the confirmation process.
University of Washington spokesman Bob Roseth said Inslee’s decision came as a surprise.
“We’ll be eagerly interested in his plans for filling those positions,” Roseth said.