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Caterwaul over school chief

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Top Republican officials in Michigan have cried foul over the Democratic governor's involvement in the board of education's choice of a new state school chief.

According to GOP leaders, the new superintendent, Donald L. Bemis, was "clearly'' the handpicked candidate of Gov. James J. Blanchard. The eight-member board, whose members are elected and are now split evenly between the two parties, voted 5 to 3 on April 8 to hire Mr. Bemis, who is currently superintendent of schools in Utica, Mich.

According to Senator Dan DeGrow, a key Republican on education issues, Mr. Bemis has a "long-established record of raising funds for Democratic candidates.''

"How can he work with the Republicans in the Senate when he's raising money for the other side?'' Mr. DeGrow asked. "It'll be hard for me to go to the Republican caucus and say, 'Let's back his budget request for the department' when he's out there fund-raising.''

Mr. Blanchard, meanwhile, has strongly defended his role in the selection process, noting that as Governor he is ultimately responsible for public education.

"There is nothing written in stone here that says that the Governor should stand in line ... after 60 education lobbyists and the Republican Senate and be the last to be heard on who will head the education department,'' he said recently.

And what are the views of the man at the center of the storm?

"I work for all eight board members'' and not the Governor, Mr. Bemis said last week. "I'm appointed to carry out their policies and procedures.''

Other signs that the healing process had begun were also evident last week.

Dorothy Beardmore, one of the three Republicans on the board who voted against Mr. Bemis's selection, said it would be "counterproductive at this point'' to continue the debate. "The decision has been made, and now it's time to move on and make this a successful experience.''

Briefly noted: The California Board of Education has voted to rescind its earlier endorsement of a school-funding proposal that education groups hope to place on the November ballot.

The board voted in February to back the initiative, which would guarantee that precollegiate education would receive at least 38.9 percent of the state general-fund budget. The Los Angeles Times reported that the board's about-face was the result of pressure from Gov. George Deukmejian. The Governor's office denies such action.--TM

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