Diplomas reprinted in Fairbanks to remove ousted superintendent's name

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Hundreds of local high school seniors didn't know early this week if they would receive diplomas this week at graduation exercises.

Their academic status was not in doubt, but the fate of their paper diplomas was in the hands of a UPS delivery truck.

The logistics worked out Tuesday afternoon in time for the graduates of Lathrop High School and West Valley High School to have newly minted diplomas.

At Lathrop, the counseling staff spent the early afternoon getting the diplomas prepared for the ceremony Tuesday. West Valley High School has its turn Wednesday.

The last-minute change took place because the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board last week opted to have all the diplomas reprinted. The only name graduates really care about is their own, but the diplomas also bear signatures of top school district officials, attesting to the completion of course requirements. The board opted to remove the name of Superintendent of Schools Pete Lewis from the diplomas. It began proceedings last week to fire Lewis, but the diplomas were already printed with his name at the bottom.

So at a cost of $2,594, the district reprinted the diplomas and certificates of achievement.

Technically, Lewis remains the superintendent. His termination is not official. But Board President Heidi Haas sought the change because Lewis is suspended and on his way out, as far as the board is concerned. Instead of Lewis, the name of Acting Superintendent Karen Gaborik appears on the new diplomas.

"Dr. Gaborik has been given the authority to act on behalf of the district as superintendent, and therefore her name should appear on the diplomas. Mr. Lewis does not have the authority to act on behalf of the district while on administrative leave," Haas said in an e-mail, responding to a question about why the district went this route.

For his part, Lewis has filed for arbitration proceedings with the district, under terms of his contract, which says that is the way to settle all disputes. Board members blame Lewis for the way the district handled recent allegations against a high school tutor that led to criminal sex abuse charges. Lewis' lawyer wrote that the complaints against him are "vague and unspecific" and that the board harmed his reputation with defamatory comments.

Reach Dermot Cole at dermot@alaskadispatch.com.