New State Schools Chiefs Taking the Reins
The face of state education policy in Delaware and Vermont is coming into focus as both states inch closer to filling education commissioners' posts. And in Louisiana and Kansas, officials recently appointed new leaders for their education departments.
Cecil Picard, the chairman of the Louisiana Senate's revenue and fiscal-affairs committee, is the nation's newest state schools chief. The Louisiana board of education voted unanimously April 25 to have Sen. Picard replace Raymond G. Arveson, who retired last year as state superintendent.
Mr. Picard, a Democrat from Maurice, lobbied for the post after he was defeated in a race for Senate president. The former teacher, coach, principal, and veteran legislator will not take office until after the legislative session ends this summer.
Backed by first-year Gov. Mike Foster, a Republican, Mr. Picard said his priority in the $95,000-a-year job will be elevating education to the top of lawmakers' agenda.
In Kansas, a new schools chief also will take office this summer, filling the $105,000-a-year job left open when veteran commissioner Lee Droegemueller retired last year.
The state board hired John A. "Andy" Tompkins, the interim dean of education at Pittsburg State University in southeastern Kansas.
Mr. Tompkins, who will take office next month, was chosen as the state superintendent of the year in 1992 while he was head of the Salina school district. He has worked as an administrator and English teacher at schools across Kansas for the past 25 years.
And in Michigan, the state board has signed a $97,000-a-year contract with Arthur E. Ellis to be that state's superintendent of public instruction. Mr. Ellis had served as the interim superintendent since last year.
Mr. Ellis previously served as director of the Michigan Department of Commerce and is a former president of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
Meanwhile in Virginia last week, William C. Bosher Jr., the state's superintendent of public instruction, announced his resignation to become superintendent of the Chesterfield County, Va., schools. He will leave the $116,000-a-year job next month. Officials in Gov. George Allen's office said he will name a successor as soon as possible.
Two other states are moving closer to appointing new state chiefs.
In Delaware, officials have chosen seven finalists to succeed Pascal D. Forgione Jr. as the superintendent of public instruction. Mr. Forgione's appointment as head of the National Center for Education Statistics is pending before the U.S. Senate.
Finalists for the Delaware job include three applicants now working in Delaware and four candidates from outside the state. Paul R. Fine, the president of the state school board, said the panel is continuing to interview finalists and is hoping to select a superintendent by the end of the school year.
Officials in Vermont are not as close to filling the commissioner's post that was vacated last September when Richard P. Mills left to take the chief's job in New York state. But they at least hope to know this week what direction their search will take.
The Vermont board had compiled a list of finalists for the vacant post earlier this year only to scrap the process when Gov. Howard Dean began pushing bills to give him more control over the commissioner's position.
Lawmakers were expected last week to deal with a bill backed by Gov. Dean that would give him power to dismiss the state commissioner. Under the present system, the state board hires and fires the commissioner and the governor must sign off on the board's hiring.
Mr. Dean, a Democrat, has been adamant about hiring a Vermont educator with recent teaching experience to fill the commissioner's post. Officials in the state education department said they expect to begin another search after the legislature finishes its debate on the connection between the commissioner's post and the governor.
Once the various appointed state positions are settled, chiefs' jobs in four more states will be up for grabs in the November elections. Voters in Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington state will fill their top state education posts.
North Carolina also will field candidates for the superintendent of public instruction's post. But a change in the law since the last election and action by the state board have combined to gut the responsibilities of the job. Bob Ethridge, the elected state schools chief, now has a minimal role in education.
Richard Thompson, who was appointed by the state board, is filling the responsibilities and performing the duties of state chief.