- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The man chosen by former Gov. John Kitzhaber to head Oregon’s public school system announced his resignation Wednesday.

Rob Saxton, whose formal title is deputy superintendent of public instruction, said in a letter to state Department of Education employees he’s made a bittersweet decision to leave for another job June 30.

Saxton accepted a two-year contract to become superintendent of the Northwest Regional Education Service District. He will make $161,120 a year - roughly $30,000 less than what he makes now. Saxton was not immediately available for an interview.

The 2011 Legislature, at Kitzhaber’s request, changed the head of public schools from an elected position to an appointed position.

Kitzhaber chose Saxton for the job in July 2012. They, along with then-Chief Education Officer Rudy Crew, started to implement the ambitious “40-40-20” plan to significantly increase the number of students who get a college degree. By 2025, the state expects to see 40 percent of students attain at least a four-year degree and another 40 percent earn an associate’s degree or other career credential. The other 20 percent are expected to at least graduate from high school.

Three years into the effort, Oregon continues to have one of the nation’s lowest graduation rates.

Saxton’s departure comes less than two months after Kitzhaber resigned amid a conflict-of-interest scandal involving fiancee Cylvia Hayes and her sustainable energy consulting business. Crew left for New York after one year, and he was replaced by Nancy Golden, who remains on the job.

New Gov. Kate Brown will appoint Saxton’s replacement. She has yet to say whether she wanted Saxton to stay or wanted her own person in the position.

“I congratulate Rob on this new opportunity and thank him for his service to the students of Oregon,” she said in a statement emailed by a spokeswoman. “I am considering next steps in the context of the broader discussions about education policies and resources.”

Saxton enjoyed working with Brown and was not forced out, Education Department spokeswoman Crystal Greene said. “This was definitely something that was his decision,” she said.

Northwest Regional, based in Hillsboro, is the largest of the state’s 19 education service districts, serving Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook and Washington counties. ESDs provide centralized administrative, technical and special education services for multiple school districts.

Saxton will replace retiring Superintendent James Sager. The district approached Saxton to gauge his interest in the job, Northwest Regional spokeswoman Megan Stenberg said.

Saxton was superintendent of Tigard-Tualatin schools for seven years before he was chosen by Kitzhaber. He is not related to former Oregon gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton.

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Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub

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