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Palmetto changes Lottery 'hoax'

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The pace of change in South Carolina's education bureaucracy is picking up these days.

First there was the November election defeat of the state's veteran education superintendent, Charlie G. Williams, who was in office when the Palmetto State began its widely heralded school-reform plan in 1984.

Barbara Nielsen, the Republican who defeated Mr. Williams, takes office this week with an ambitious restructuring agenda of her own, including plans to decentralize the state education department.

In addition, Senator Nikki Setzler, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, recently unveiled a proposal to revamp the state board of education.

Mr. Setzler's proposal calls for reducing the number of board members from 17 to 11 and having them selected on a statewide basis rather than by judicial district.

"We need a smaller board and a more active board," Mr. Setzler said. "The public wants school restructuring to go from the classroom to the top."

As Mr. Setzler's comment suggests, critics of the current system frequently have faulted the board for inactivity.

With no staff of its own and facing Mr. Williams's forceful personality, the board has been relegated to little more than a "rubber stamp'' for departmental policies, the critics contend.

The panel has also been troubled by absenteeism, with one member reportedly missing meetings for two years.

Mr. Setzler's bill would give the board authority over a new Bureau for Education Accountability, which would take over monitoring of the implementation of the education-reform law from an office in the department.

The measure would also allow the board to dismiss members for habitual absences.

Ever since it was created in 1986, the Florida state lottery has been a source of frustration to many educators, who argue that it has failed to produce the financial windfall for the schools promised by its backers.

Gov.-Elect Lawton Chiles campaigned last fall on a pledge that lottery revenues be used to enhance education, rather than simply to replace general revenues, and promised to oust the administrator of the lottery, Rebecca Paul.

After a visit with Ms. Paul last month, Mr. Chiles again voiced strong criticism of the way the lottery has operated.

"I think the lottery to date, and what it was to be used for, has been a giant hoax on the people of Florida," Mr. Chiles said. "They passed it on the basis that it was going to be used to enhance education. We're going to try to improve that."--hd

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