Gov. Mike Beebe has asked Tony Wood, the deputy commissioner of education, to be the next education commissioner, Wood confirmed in a phone interview today.
“The governor has asked me in regard to serving in that role, and it is my intention to do so,” he said.
Matt DeCample, Gov. Beebe’s spokesperson, confirmed that Beebe has asked Wood to serve in that role. “Yes, the governor’s recommending Tony Wood to the (State Board of Education). It is their selection, but he’s recommending it be Tony Wood because Tony has done a great job as deputy commissioner and is just in the ideal position to take over the commissioner position for the rest of Gov. Beebe’s term.”
The State Board of Education appoints the commissioner, but the officeholder serves at the will of the governor. The State Board meets Thursday. Chairman Brenda Gullett said it has not yet been determined how the topic will be addressed. However, she said the Board would agree to the selection of Wood.
“The board is not going to challenge that, I can assure you of that,” she said.
Gullett praised the selection, saying, “They could not have picked a better person at this time to just step in and run the department and keep things moving along.”
Wood said Beebe asked him to serve as commissioner during an office meeting early last week, and he accepted during that meeting. A salary figure was not discussed, and Wood did not know when the appointment officially will be made.
“It’s my understanding that I will be appointed as commissioner as opposed to interim,” he said.
Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the current education commissioner, announced he is leaving the department June 30 to become Bryant superintendent.
Wood, 63, retired in 2010 after serving 18 years as Searcy superintendent but was lured out of retirement by Kimbrell. Wood said that Kimbrell told him at the time that they would be a good team, and that relationship was a big part of the reason Wood agreed to take the deputy commissioner’s job.
Wood has a longstanding relationship with Beebe, who represented the Searcy area in the Legislature.
Kimbrell was the first agency head to resign as the end of Beebe’s term nears. On Friday, State Medicaid Director Andy Allison announced his resignation.
Asked if he would want to continue as education commissioner under the next governor, Wood said he would evaluate that possibility after serving several months in the role and if he were asked to stay.
He said the state’s incoming governor “needs to make a decision in regard to the person that he has trust and a working relationship with. I think that is a governor’s decision to make.”