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Governor Fires Minn. Schools Chief

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In a move with major policy and political implications, Gov. Arne Carlson of Minnesota has fired Gene Mammenga as the state commissioner of education.

In announcing the ouster last month, the Governor attributed his decision to the lack of movement within the education department to proceed with the state's outcome-based, or results-oriented, education reforms. But some observers attributed the move more to political factors and tensions within the department.

Mr. Carlson tapped Linda Powell, the superintendent of the Robbinsdale schools, to take over as chief.

The switch in education leaders comes as Minnesota is moving into the next phase of its outcomes-based-education reform this fall, with the start of a dozen pilot programs.

Curtis Johnson, the Governor's deputy chief of staff, likened the situation to an owner of a baseball team who changes managers even though the team is far from last place.

"The Governor wanted ... to get a different style of leadership to work on the reforms we are pushing,'' Mr. Johnson said.

"One should not read this as some sort of harsh indictment of Mammenga's tenure,'' Mr. Johnson continued. "All of us who have worked with Commissioner Mammenga still have a great deal of affection for him and admiration for his period of service.''

'A Phony Issue'

But others questioned the publicly stated reason for the ouster, noting that Mr. Mammega was instrumental in getting the legislature to invest $10.3 million in O.B.E. this year alone.

Some observers say Mr. Mammenga fell victim to dissension within the department.

Two department officials who were assigned to the task of developing and implementing the reforms resigned, only to return shortly after Mr. Mammenga was fired.

Others blame a souring relationship between the Republican Governor and the Minnesota Education Association.

Before his appointment in 1991, Mr. Mammenga worked as a lobbyist for the teachers' union, which shifted from its traditional Democrat-Farmer-Labor allegiance to back Mr. Carlson in the 11th hour of the 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

In recent months, however, Mr. Carlson has proposed salary freezes for state workers, including teachers, and advocated abolishing teachers' right to strike.

Sources said that although Mr. Mammenga was not directly involved, he sometimes was caught between the sparring camps.

Mr. Johnson denied that the M.E.A. had any bearing on the decision to replace Mr. Mammenga.

But Robert E. Astrup, the president of the M.E.A., said the decisive factor in the move was the looming conflicts between the Governor and the union. "I think the whole business about outcomes is a phony issue,'' Mr. Astrup said.

While declining to comment on the politics of his dismissal, Mr. Mammenga said he did want to make clear that he was a strong proponent of outcomes-based education.

"I don't want anything about my departure to prejudice achieving those goals,'' he said last week.

One consequence of the firing has been to raise the profile of outcomes- based education. Although the path to the reform in Minnesota has not been without its bumps, until now backers have escaped the firestorms of public criticism that O.B.E. has generated in Pennsylvania and other states.

Raising the Stakes

"The visibility that this leadership change has achieved has certainly raised the stakes on our outcomes philosophy,'' Mr. Johnson said.

In recent weeks there have been signs of growing skepticism among parents and others about the reform.

Rep. Kathleen O. Vallenga, the chairwoman of the House education-finance subcommittee, said a farmer stopped to ask her about O.B.E. as she toured a flood-ravaged part of the state not long ago.

"The silver bullet is the public is now aware of something called O.B.E.,'' said Ms. Vallenga. "They know it doesn't sound like the way they went to school.''

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