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State Journal: Power struggles

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In his State of the State Address earlier this month, Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont proposed consolidating the state departments of education, employment and training, and labor and industry under one secretary of education and labor.

"There should be a direct line of communication and responsibility between the department of education and the executive and legislative branches,'' Mr. Dean said.

The new secretary would be a member of the governor's Cabinet and report to the governor.

Two of the executives involved are already appointed by the governor. But the state education commissioner is appointed by the state board of education, which somewhat insulates the position from political pressure--and also from the governor's control.

Richard P. Mills, who was appointed to the post in 1988, told The Associated Press that Mr. Dean's proposal is "a solution in search of a problem.''

"There's certainly a benefit to continuity,'' added Mr. Mills, who has served under three governors. "You can't accomplish major change by having one agenda one year and another agenda the next year.''

Control of the state education bureaucracy is also at issue in Idaho, where a legislative committee recently voted to recommend a constitutional amendment that would transfer responsibility for the public schools away from the state board of education.

That authority would be given, instead, to the state education department and the superintendent of public instruction, who is elected by popular vote. The board of education, in contrast, is appointed by the governor.

The Select Committee on the Thoroughness of Education, a special panel that includes members of the state House and Senate, was convened last year in response to a lawsuit alleging that state school funding does not meet constitutional standards.

The panel decided last month to support the constitutional amendment on a 7-to-4 vote.

Its sponsor, Ron Black, the chairman of the House Education Committee, argues that Superintendent of Public Instruction Jerry Evans is already effectively in charge and that the constitution should reflect that.

Members of the state board often "do not know their full legal obligation under the law,'' Mr. Black told The Associated Press.

--SARA SKLAROFF & JULIE A. MILLER

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