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Minn. Commissioner Search Continues

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The Minnesota Board of Education is continuing its search for a new commissioner of education despite the efforts of Gov. Rudy Perpich to have the selection process removed from the jurisdiction of the state board and transferred to the Governor.

The new commissioner would replace John Feda, who resigned earlier this year after the state Senate Education Committee refused to confirm his nomination by the state board. At that time, Mr. Feda had already served about 18 months as the state commissioner of education.

The committee's decision was apparently influenced by Governor Perpich's announcement--shortly after his election last November--that he would like to select his own candidate for the position.

Only four states currently have laws giv-ing the governor the authority to appoint the chief state school officer. In 28 states, the commissioner or superintendent is selected by the state board, and in 18 states the chief school officer is elected.

In February, legislation that would give the Minnesota governor direct authority to appoint the state commissioner of education--subject to confirmation by the Senate--was introduced in both chambers of the legislature.

That bill has since been approved by both the House and Senate education committees, and, according to Keith Ford, the Governor's legislative liaison, will soon be debated by the full chambers. He said the bill has considerable support and that it has an even chance of passing.

Under current state law, the commissioner is selected by the state board, which submits its nomination to the Governor. The Governor then sends the name to the Senate for confirmation.

The bill now under consideration would give the state board only an advisory role in the appointment, according to Mr. Ford.

Members of the state board are "rigorously opposing" the change, as are several state education groups, according to E. Raymond Peterson, associate commissioner of education. "You could say it's a real turf and power struggle," he added.

Erling O. Johnson, a member of the state board, argues that the Governor's proposal would "destroy the effectiveness of the board" because the state commissioner would no longer be responsible to the state board of education.

"We feel that it's a real step backwards," said Mr. Johnson, a former state commissioner of education. "We're doing everything we can to discourage approval of the bill," he said, adding that the change would "politicize" the state system of education.

A Lot of Momentum

But, according to Mr. Peterson, the Governor's proposal has "a lot of momentum behind it."

"There is some feeling that the board was not taking a strong enough position on issues," Mr. Peterson said.

Terry Montgomery, Governor Perpich's chief of staff, contends that the disagreement is not necessarily over the state board's performance but involves the responsiveness of the state commissioner to the Governor's initiatives. Mr. Perpich served a partial term as governor from December 1976 to January 1979.

"[Governor Perpich] is deter-mined that if the state is going to give emphasis on education he has to correct that problem," Mr. Montgomery said.

Lani M. Kawamura, Mr. Perpich's special assistant, said that education is one of the cornerstones of the Governor's platform and because of the proposed initiatives, "some of the ways that we are dealing with education are going to have to change. We're looking at the system and trying to correct what we feel has traditionally worked but will not work in the future," she said.

"We understand that for the board it's probably an emotional issue,'' Ms. Kawamura said.

The state board, meanwhile, was scheduled to begin screening the 16 applications submitted for the commissioner's job.

The board is expected to vote on its choice by June 1.

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