Jeb Bush loyalist bows out from panel

Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 12:09 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - A Jeb Bush loyalist who pushed the former governor's agenda as chairman of the State Board of Education withdrew from consideration Monday for reappointment to the panel.
Phil Handy joins another Bush appointee, Education Commissioner John Winn, in bowing out of key leadership roles in Florida's school system after previously saying they intended to stay on under new Gov. Charlie Crist. Winn announced his retirement Jan. 12, 10 days after Crist took office.
Handy is now the board's vice chairman. At its last meeting, the panel chose another Bush stalwart, T. Willard Fair, as its new chairman, trading positions with Handy.
In a letter to Crist, Handy wrote that the new governor's decision to withdraw 283 Bush appointments, including his, gave him an opportunity to reflect.
''That reflection has led me to decide against standing for re-nomination,'' Handy wrote, adding that his departure would ''provide another nominee the opportunity to carry on the state board's great work.''
Handy urged Crist to reappoint Fair, whose appointment has been withdrawn by the governor. During his last days in office, Bush reappointed Handy and Fair to four-year terms, but neither has yet been reconfirmed by the Florida Senate.
Fair, who co-founded a charter school with Bush in Miami, told the outgoing governor that he believed ''there is no greater person on this earth than you'' when Bush appeared in December to urge the board to continue his agenda under Crist.
Handy, Winn and Fair all were leaders in promoting such Bush policies as vouchers that let students attend private schools at taxpayer expense, a school grading system based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment test and teacher performance pay also determined by scores on the FCAT and other standardized tests.
''It has been an honor and a joy to participate in some of America's most unique fundamental changes in public education,'' Handy wrote. ''I believe these efforts will enhance student achievement and promote better opportunities for the future of our children.''
Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac declined to comment on whether the governor intended to reappoint Fair.
During his campaign Crist said he intended to stay the course on education but was open to new ideas.
Handy wrote that he will continue to play a role in education policy on the national level. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has created an exploratory committee for a possible presidential candidacy, has appointed Handy to chair his education policy committee.
A prep school graduate with degrees from Princeton and Harvard, Handy is chief executive officer of Strategic Industries LLC, which manufactures a wide range of products including aircraft engines, plastics and metal doors.
Handy was a leader in the ''Eight is Enough'' citizen initiative that limits legislators to eight years in office.
Bush in 2000 appointed Handy to chair an educational task force that recommended abolishing the Board of Regents, which had overseen the state's 11 universities.
The Legislature followed that recommendation, putting the universities under the State Board of Education. That raised complaints of political meddling, and former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham led a citizen initiative that returned university oversight to a separate panel, the Board of Governors.

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