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Minn. Governor Names School Chief After Battle Over Appointment Power

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Gov. Rudy A. Perpich of Minnesota announced the appointment of a new state commissioner of education last week, only moments after signing into law a bill that removed the authority for such an appointment from the jurisdiction of the state board of education.

His choice was Ruth E. Randall, the superintendent of the Rosemount-Apple Valley school district, who will become the sixth woman chief state school officer in the nation. She will assume her new position on July 1.

Ms. Randall, who is 54 years old, has been with the Rosemount district for the past five years and has served as its deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent for personnel.

'Excellence in Education'

In making the announcement, Governor Perpich said that "excellence in education is a keystone in our program" and that Ms. Randall is the "perfect" choice. In the two years that she has served as Rosemount superintendent, the Governor said, she "has earned a reputation for drawing students, teachers, and parents into a drive for innovation and excellence."

Ms. Randall will replace John Feda, who resigned earlier this year after the state Senate's 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, but the legislative committee reportedly responded to Governor Perpich's expressed desire to make his own selection for the position. (See Education Week, May 4, 1983.)

Members of the state board of education had opposed a change in the law but their lobbying efforts apparently were unsuccessful.

Minnesota is now only one of five states that have laws giving the governor the authority to appoint the chief state school officer. In 27 states, the commissioner or superintendent is selected by the state board and in 18 states the top education official is elected.

The state legislature's enactment of the appointment bill on May 13 brought the state board's search for a candidate to an abrupt end. The board had scheduled interviews with the finalists for the position on the same day that Ms. Randall's appointment was announced, according to E. Raymond Peterson, associate commissioner of education.

William J. Ridley, president of the state board, said Ms. Randall was among the eight finalists. He said he was "impressed with some" of Ms. Randall's strengths and was not opposed to her appointment.

"Our issue is not with Ruth Randall; it's with the process and what it portends for the future," Mr. Ridley said. "Our main point of opposition is that there's a separation-of-powers provision that has served this country well."

'A Subtle First Step'

Mr. Ridley said that the new law represents "a subtle first step" toward centralized government. "Everyone is decentralizing and we seem to be bucking that pattern," he added.

During a brief meeting with Governor Perpich last week, Mr. Ridley said the board members aired their concerns about the new appointment procedures and requested clarification on the relationship between the board and the new commissioner.

"We're concerned about who will have the authority to determine courses in the schools," Mr. Ridley said. "The commissioner can bypass us now, but much will depend on how the Governor deals with it. We retain all our powers except the authority to appoint the commissioner."

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