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State Journal: Arizona surprise

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In a recent speech, Arizona Gov. Fife Symington called for dramatic changes in the state's education system, including the abolition of the state education department.

Addressing an audience at the Phoenix 100 Rotary Club on Sept. 29, the Republican governor also called for stripping governing powers from elected school boards, granting school-site councils more power, eliminating state certification of teachers and administrators, and freeing public schools from many state laws and regulations.

"People are just kind of shocked more than anything," said Daphne D. Atkeson, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Education Association.

Those taken by surprise apparently include Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham, a former Republican state legislator who is considered a strong ally of the governor.

The day of the governor's speech, Ms. Graham issued a memo to employees indicating that she was unaware of his proposal to eliminate the agency she heads. A few days later, Ms. Graham said in a statement that "the governor shares my vision for fundamental reform, although his road map for getting there is somewhat different than mine."

In his speech, Mr. Symington reiterated his support for Ms. Graham. "She just has the misfortune to be the head of an agency which has outlived its usefulness, if indeed it ever had any," the governor said.

While Mr. Symington called the education department a "burgeoning bureaucracy," a spokesman for Ms. Graham noted that she has cut the number of full-time agency employees from 448 to 340 during her nine months in office and that she supports abolishing some agency functions.

While some of Mr. Symington's proposals are not new--such as a proposal for a voucher plan including private schools--he has not proposed eliminating the education department before, according to his spokesman. The governor's proposals will likely be introduced as bills when the legislature convenes in January.

Some observers speculated that Mr. Symington chose to drop these bombshells now in an attempt to divert attention from more personal news that has been claiming headlines. The governor, who made millions as a developer before he was elected to his first term in 1991, announced Sept. 20 that he had filed for bankruptcy due to heavy losses in the Phoenix real-estate market.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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