Department of Higher Education commissioner search on hold

The department also announced layoffs of some state-funded workers.

The Coordinating Board for Higher Education will stop looking for a new commissioner until the legislature decides whether it should be combined with another department to save money.

According to a statement from the Department of Higher Education, the board voted to suspend the search four to six weeks in an emergency conference call Thursday.

The board chose to delay the meeting until it learns whether the DHE will be combined with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In a March 11 speech in Springfield, Gov. Jay Nixon suggested the two departments be combined to help the state reduce its $500 million budget deficit.

"We need to have one Department of Education that prepares students from the day they walk into pre-school to the day they walk across the stage with their college diplomas," Nixon said in the speech.

Commissioner Robert Stein's retirement is effective July 1. In the statement, CBHE Chairman Lowell Kruse said the extra time is necessary to pick the best future commissioner if the department remains independent.

"The board agreed that additional time will ensure a well-informed decision," Kruse said. "We want to be part of the solution for making government more efficient."

The department will also lay off some workers and reassign others to increase efficiency and reduce the deficit. According to the statement, the department will lay off seven of its 31 workers paid by the state.

DHE spokeswoman Kathy Love said the department has a total of 76 workers but the federal government pays the others.

"We're working to help trim government wherever we can," Love said.

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