- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s state superintendent, who criticized the idea of spending more on education, stepped down Wednesday after about a year in office.

Superintendent Brad Smith said in a resignation letter that he no longer feels able to make a positive contribution, though he didn’t explain his decision further.

His resignation comes about a month into a 90-day medical leave of absence. Smith was dealing with chronic health problems that weren’t considered life-threatening, board spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler said then. Smith took the leave in January partly in response to the demands of the legislative session that’s now in progress, she said.

During the last session, Smith apologized for comparing teachers to crying children after they rallied for more school funding. He said he was tired and frustrated when he made the comments to the Salt Lake Tribune.

In the apology posted on the Utah State Office of Education website in March 2015, Smith said the gaffe had teachers believing he didn’t support them, but he praised educators as diligent and conscientious people who should get paid more.

Later that year, he said it’s not a bad thing that Utah ranks lowest in the country for per-student education spending.

He told a Utah Taxpayers Association conference that there’s no virtue in rising higher on that list and no particular vice in being low on it.

He was hired in November 2014 after serving as chief of the Ogden School District for three years, where he earned a reputation for trimming programs and staff.

In his tenure at the helm of the state school system, Smith brought together an effective administrative team and was instrumental in putting into place a turnaround program aimed at helping Utah’s struggling schools, the State Board of Education said in a statement.

Smith said he’s proud to have “repaired a fractured relationship with lawmakers” and is leaving the office in a stronger position than he found it.

He said he hopes to keep working in the educational field.

Deputy Superintendent Sydnee Dickson was named acting superintendent when Smith took medical leave, and the board said she will continue in that role.

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