Fla. ready to pick new education commissioner
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Just six weeks after the abrupt resignation of Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, top state officials appear ready to name a permanent successor.
The state board that oversees education is expected to vote Tuesday to hire interim commissioner Pam Stewart for the job instead of launching a national search.
"I'm more along with keeping the steady hand at the helm we have right now," said John Colon, one of the members of the State Board of Education. "It might be beneficial at this point to continue what we have rather than bring someone else up to speed."
Stewart, 60, has already held the interim commissioner post twice now in the past year. She has a long track record of working in Florida and started her career in the '70s as a Hillsborough County teacher. She has also been a principal in Ocala and a deputy superintendent in St. John's County.
Florida's education system has had a tumultuous summer. Officials have been dealing with the resignation of Bennett and lingering controversy over its A-to-F grading system and the transition to new standards known as the Common Core State Standards.
Board member John Padget said that Stewart's involvement in Common Core was the reason he would support her getting the job of commissioner.
"Pam's knowledge of the department will enable Florida to continue rapid and smooth implementation of Common Core State Standards, which is my first priority," Padget said.
Stewart also has the key backing of Gov. Rick Scott for the job even though Scott has refused recently to come out in favor of the standards that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
"While this is the Board of Education's decision, we would be proud to have Pam Stewart as commissioner," Scott said in a statement. "As a parent and grandparent, and a former teacher and principal, her leadership would provide our education system with valuable stability and experience at this point in our state's history."
During a three-day schools summit put together by Scott last month, stability was repeated often by school superintendents and other education leaders. Since Scott became governor in 2011 the state has had three education commissioners.
Scott does not pick the commissioner directly, but he has a great deal of influence since he appoints the members who sit on the State Board of Education. There have been concerns that it might be hard to launch a full-blown search for a commissioner since Scott is up for re-election in 2014.
Bennett was selected late last year after he lost his re-election bid as the top schools official in Indiana.
He resigned in August amid allegations that he changed the grade of a charter school run by a major Republican donor during his previous job as Indiana's school chief. He said that while he did nothing wrong he didn't want to be a distraction to ongoing efforts to overhaul Florida's education system.
Bennett was earning $275,000 as commissioner. Stewart, who had been chancellor for public schools, was given a raise to $199,650 when she was named interim commissioner.