Education board begins search for commissioner

Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE — The State Board of Education approved a plan for a national search to replace retiring Education Commissioner John Winn after naming his chief of staff as a temporary replacement Thursday.

The plan includes offering Gov. Charlie Crist an opportunity to participate in reference checks and interviews of candidates for the job Crist held in 2001-03 when it was an elected position. The board, though, has sole authority to hire the new commissioner.

"I would certainly want the governor's input," Chairman T. Willard Fair said after the board's meeting. "It would only be the courteous thing to do."

The board unanimously accepted Winn's recommendation to appoint Jeanine Blomberg as acting commissioner, effective after he retires Feb. 28. Winn's education career, spanning 35 years, began as a classroom teacher and has included several positions in the Department of Education and a stint as then-Gov. Jeb Bush's education policy coordinator.

Blomberg, 62, also has a lengthy resume with the department. She previously has been deputy commissioner for accountability, research and measurement and deputy commissioner of finance and operations.

"She knows the department's functions better than anyone else," Winn said. "She will provide this board with continuity."

Crist reappointed Fair, of Miami, and named Dr. Akshay Desai, a St. Petersburg physician and health maintenance organization president, to replace Phil Handy less than 24 hours before Thursday's meeting.

Bush had reappointed Fair and Handy, the board's former chairman, late last year, but Crist withdrew both appointments after taking office Jan. 2. Handy subsequently asked not to have his appointment reinstated. The board last month elected Fair as chairman and Handy as vice chairman.

The other five board members are Bush appointees. The board had diligently applied Bush's education policies including an emphasis on testing and accountability, often over objections from teachers, administrators and local school officials.

Crist has generally supported those policies but Wednesday announced he will offer a proposal next week to make changes in the way the state uses and administers the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, a key instrument in the accountability programs.

Winn is the second person to serve as education commissioner since the job was made appointive in 2003.

The first was Jim Horne, also a Bush aide and a former Republican legislator. Horne resigned, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family, and the board appointed Winn, then Horne's chief of staff, in August 2004.

Fair said this time the board will conduct a national search. The board's unanimously approved plan sets a June timetable for hiring the new commissioner.

First, a job description will be developed and then a search firm hired. The job then will be advertised in March. The search firm will recommend three finalists but also forward information on all other candidates.

"Consultant firms also have their preferences," Fair said. "I want to make sure we see everybody who had enough interest in this job to apply for it."

The board and Crist or his designee will interview the finalists during a public meeting.

Besides criteria in the job description, Fair said the next commissioner should be articulate and have some experience in the political sphere.

"I am looking for a person, for example, who has command," Fair said. "He or she is going to be dealing with the state Legislature so you can't have a person in this job, in this town, who can't walk into the den and command respect."

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