DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The superintendent of Iowa’s largest school district announced Monday he would resign in June after a decade-long tenure, which included a standoff with the state’s conservative governor over coronavirus protections that led to his public reprimand.
Thomas Ahart said at a news conference that he would quit his position leading the 31,000-student district on June 30, expressing satisfaction about accomplishments during his 10 years as superintendent but acknowledging the job at times was “frustrating and exhausting.”
Ahart said he wasn’t forced out of the job, though the school board last year declined to extend his contract past its expiration date of June 2023.
“I feel it’s a good time for me to step away, to reevaluate where I want to go in my career and turn the reins over to new leadership,” Ahart said. “The last two years didn’t feel like two years. It felt more like four or five years.”
The board’s action followed a dispute between Des Moines schools and Gov. Kim Reynolds over her effort to require all Iowa public school students to have the option of in-person classes at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, when Iowa has some of the nation’s highest rates of coronavirus infections. For the first two weeks of the school year, the Des Moines district violated the order until it gave students the options of hybrid or all-virtual learning.
That delay led to complaints filed with the state education board, a panel appointed by the governor. The board found the district violated the law by not immediately complying with Reynolds’ order and approved an administrative law judge’s decision that Ahart should have a letter of public reprimand placed in his permanent licensure file.
At a news conference, Ahart said little about his dispute with the governor but acknowledged that as Iowa has become more conservative in the past decade many politicians have become critical of actions by Des Moines school leaders regarding budget and social justice efforts.
“Politics definitely plays a huge role in the superintendency, especially in the particular dynamics we have in Des Moines right now,” he said. “We’re a very red state right now. We’re the urban center. We’re by far the most diverse.”
The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Ahart’s resignation.
Speaking with Ahart at the news conference, school board Chairwoman Dwana Bradley called the superintendent “accessible, candid and sincere.”
Bradley said the board would appoint an interim superintendent for the upcoming school year and planned to have a new superintendent hired before the start of the 2023-2024 academic year.