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4 States Begin School Year With New Chiefs

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Four states have closed their searches for new state schools chiefs in time to launch the school year with permanent leadership.

In two nationally watched appointments, Wilmer S. Cody, a former Louisiana chief, was named Kentucky's second appointed education commissioner, and Richard P. Mills, who headed the Vermont education department, has accepted the top job in New York.

In Ohio, John M. Goff, who is now the acting state superintendent, next week will assume that post permanently. And in Alabama, the school board announced last week that it had offered Edward R. Richardson, the superintendent of the Auburn, Ala., school system, that state's top education post.

After several weeks of closed-door discussions, the Kentucky and New York state superintendents' races made headlines last month as officials in both states filled their posts within hours of each other. Mr. Mills, a candidate for the jobs in both states, interviewed with the Kentucky school board one day before he interviewed in New York. But the New York board acted first, offering the Vermont chief the $136,500-a-year job, which he accepted.

Kentucky officials offered Mr. Cody, the remaining contender, a $138,000-a-year contract.

Troubled Waters

Officials who led the searches in Kentucky and New York said the backgrounds and personalities of Mr. Cody and Mr. Mills should help smooth rough political waters, which have buffeted state education departments across the country over the past year. A number of state superintendencies have changed hands this year in positions both appointed and elected. (See Education Week, Nov. 23, 1994.)

Political strife claimed other state chiefs last month.

Robert E. Schiller resigned his post in Michigan, citing differences with the state school board. Mr. Schiller had held the job for nearly four years. The board approved a $203,000 buyout of the final two years of his contract and chose Arthur E. Ellis, the director of Michigan's commerce department, as the acting schools chief.

And Al Ramirez, the director of Iowa's education department, resigned unexpectedly last month, citing a political climate that he said does not allow for innovation.

"This position at this time isn't the platform to attempt the kind of changes to the education system that are needed," he said in an interview. "This conversation has come to a stop here and nationally." Mr. Ramirez, who was hired less than two years ago after working in the Illinois education department, said he will seek work as a consultant when he leaves office on Sept. 22.

Both Thomas C. Boysen, Kentucky's commissioner since 1991, and Thomas Sobol, the New York schools chief since 1987, resigned this year, citing political turmoil as a top factor. (See Education Week, Feb. 18 and Feb. 22, 1995.)

New York's 'Hopeful Climate'

In Mr. Mills, New York officials found a highly regarded administrator whose background includes close ties to a Republican governor. Before beginning work in Vermont in 1988, where he made a name promoting student portfolio assessments, Mr. Mills was the education adviser to then-Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey.

Within days of his selection, Mr. Mills spoke with Republican Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, whose relationship with Mr. Sobol was strained from the beginning.

"There is a really hopeful climate here for the first time in a number of months," said Bill Hirschen, a spokesman for the New York education department.

Though Mr. Mills is coming from a small, rural state, New York education officials say they are hopeful that he can tap his experiences rising through the ranks of the New Jersey education department from 1975 to 1984 in approaching school issues in New York.

Under his contract, Mr. Mills also could earn a $25,000 bonus if he meets the expectations of the state board of regents.

Confident in Kentucky

Kentucky officials, meanwhile, said they were confident that Mr. Cody has attributes that will help him work well with state lawmakers--an ability that critics said Mr. Boysen lacked--and build consensus around the direction of the wide-ranging Kentucky Education Reform Act.

Observers in the state already were applauding Mr. Cody's Southern roots and easygoing manner in his first official visit to Kentucky. And, they said, Mr. Cody's experience running the Louisiana education department and serving as a superintendent in Birmingham, Ala., and Montgomery County, Md., an affluent Washington suburb, shows that he is a seasoned manager.

Since he left Louisiana in 1992, Mr. Cody has worked as the executive director of the National Education Goals Panel in Washington and as the director for the Southern region of the National Faculty, a nonprofit program that promotes collaboration between scholars and teachers.

Mr. Cody's career began in his native Mobile, Ala., where he worked as a teacher and principal. He also has supervised teacher education for the Atlanta school district and worked as a superintendent in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Ohio Appointment

Shortly after the New York and Kentucky decisions, the Ohio state board gave a permanent appointment to Mr. Goff, who has worked as a local superintendent and state official in Ohio.

Mr. Goff joined the Ohio department in 1989 and most recently served as the acting state superintendent after Ted Sanders left the post this year.

He beat out two local Ohio superintendents for the $126,000-a-year post.

Decision in Alabama

In Alabama, the board of education announced last week that it had appointed Mr. Richardson the new state chief after some apparent wrangling over the post between Gov. Fob James Jr. and the board. Contract negotiations were continuing late last week.

Mr. Richardson was picked from three finalists, all district superintendents. Last month, Gov. James walked out of a state board meeting after the finalists were chosen.

The governor apparently had hoped that Jimmy Baker, a former superintendent in Coffee County and the state's current finance director, would be considered for the post even though he had never applied for the job. Mr. Baker worked with the governor's office on its education priorities this year.

The two other finalists for the Alabama post were: Sandra Dowling, the superintendent in Maricopa County, Ariz.; and Joseph B. Morton, the superintendent of the Sylacauga, Ala., city schools.

In Vermont, meanwhile, officials are sparring over how to replace Mr. Mills. Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, has signaled his interest in appointing the next schools chief, a job previously filled by the state board, which continues to stake its claim to the appointment. A task force is expected to deal with the issue as the board opens a national search. Doug Walker, the manager of the education department's teaching and learning team, was appointed the interim commissioner by the state board last week.

Staff Writer Robert C. Johnston contributed to this story.

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