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A legislative panel Thursday signed off on the state Department of Education's proposal to create a director of computer science/chief STEM officer post with an annual salary between $96,960 and $140,592.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

As the state Department of Education "continues to grow Governor [Asa] Hutchinson's Computer Science Initiative, the new phase of this initiative combines computer science and STEM curriculum," state Education Commissioner Johnny Key wrote in a memo presented Thursday to the Legislative Council's personnel subcommittee.

"This position will coordinate and advance computer science and STEM initiatives as an integral component to [the department's] vision of transforming Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education," Key said in his memo.

Key said the person in the new position will report to Deputy Education Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer regarding the coding/computer science initiative and to Stacy Smith, assistant commissioner for learning services, regarding STEM. Anthony Owen is the state director of computer science education, and he reports to Pfeffer.

Upon the approval of the new position by the Legislative Council, the department plans to appoint Owen to the new position, department spokesman Kimberly Friedman said. The salary for the job will be the entry-level salary of $96,960 a year, she said. Owen's current salary is $84,839 a year, according to the Arkansas Transparency website.

[DATABASE: Search datbase of state employee salaries]

"The costs associated with the salary request for the director of computer science/chief STEM officer will easily be absorbed into our current budget," Key wrote in his memo.

The department proposed surrendering a vacant database specialist position and a vacant administrative specialist position in return for creating the new position, state Personnel Administrator Kay Barnhill wrote in a memo dated Thursday to the subcommittee.

"Owen has led the state's Computer Science Initiative to national recognition and we are excited about the experience and knowledge he brings to STEM in Arkansas," Friedman said in a written statement issued Thursday afternoon. "We expect the state to continue to lead in computer science, and with the same intensity and focus applied to STEM, we are confident that STEM will be an area to watch in our state."

Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said this initiative -- combining computer science and STEM curriculum -- is part of a broader plan to build on the governor's computer science initiative that the governor plans to unveil this summer.

The Republican governor is seeking re-election to a second four-year term this year. In his campaign for governor in 2014, he pledged to have each high school offer computer science. In 2015, the Legislature enacted that requirement.

Metro on 05/18/2018

Print Headline: State panel favors creating computer science, STEM job

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