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Idaho shake-up

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Idaho's new state schools superintendent has begun her first year in office with a bang.

By her second day on the job, Republican Anne Fox had begun a string of firings that eventually axed six top officials, including the agency's school-finance expert and the directors of science curriculum and special education.

Ms. Fox also announced that she would push to end a state-financed school-reform demonstration project, and to pull the state out of the federal Goals 2000 initiative.

She raised eyebrows once again when said she was considering investigating how the Moscow, Idaho, school board had handled a controversy over the showing of the movie "Pink Floyd: The Wall" in a high school class studying war and violence.

Although Ms. Fox ultimately opted not to pursue the matter, her actions prompted a succinct memo from the vice chairman of the state Senate's education committee.

Sen. Gary Schroeder, a Republican, wrote: "May I respectfully inquire as to whether the state department of education intends to assume a responsibility to censor books, movies, videos, and other classroom instructional material used in Idaho's public schools?"

The superintendent came under fire yet again after the Idaho Statesman newspaper revealed that she was leasing, at taxpayer expense, a Ford Crown Victoria for $530 a month.

Senator Schroeder and other education leaders say they are especially disturbed by Ms. Fox's recent action to disband a coalition joining the department with state education groups. The coalition meets each fall to make joint budget recommendations to the legislature.

Ron Black, the Republican chairman of the House education committee, observed that the previous superintendent, Jerry Evans, had held the office for 16 years, and suggested that the staff turnover typically associated with a new leader was thus more likely to spark anxiety. In addition, he said, Ms. Fox is a political novice who has not dealt with the press and the political establishment before.

"I think it's unfair to make any kind of general judgment about her performance while she's trying to get her office organized," he said.

An Idaho Education Association spokeswoman said the teachers' union is willing to cut the new superintendent some slack at the outset. An education department spokesman did not return phone calls.

--Meg Sommerfeld

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