Published Online: January 22, 1997

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Carper Urges Overhaul of Del. Education Dept.

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Gov. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware wants to restructure the state education department and make the agency more accountable to the governor and state legislature.

His plan would allow him to nominate an education secretary to be confirmed by the legislature. The secretary would head a newly created department of education. The proposed arrangement would replace the current department of public instruction and the post of superintendent, which is now vacant. The salary for the position would remain about the same, officials said.

A second bill still on the governor's drawing board would also realign the powers and responsibilities between the new department and the state school board.

"There must be clear lines of authority to ensure that taxpayers are getting the kind of education for Delaware kids that they pay for," Mr. Carper said.

Mr. Carper's bill, introduced by the House's Republican majority leader, was the first piece of legislation put before the chamber last week sponsored by the House's Republican majority leader. The Senate's majority leader, Democrat Robert J. Voshell, planned to sponsor the bills in the Senate.

A New Job Description

Under the plan put forth by Mr. Carper, a Democrat beginning his second term, the education secretary would serve on the governor's Cabinet.

The state school board is now responsible for choosing the state schools chief. Michael C. Ferguson is currently serving as the state's interim superintendent and the agency's deputy secretary. The Delaware chief's job has been vacant since Pascal Forgione Jr. left last year to become commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington.

The governor's bill spells out that candidates for the education cabinet post would need at least five years' total experience in teaching and administration.

Changes to the job description are meant to make the top education official's duties consistent with other Cabinet advisers, said Sheri Woodruff, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Mr. Carper's second bill would give the new secretary more control over day-to-day management of the state education department and more authority in granting requests by local districts.

In addition to the management duties, the secretary could also suggest policy, budget, and legislative initiatives to the governor and legislature--tasks that now fall under the state board's realm.

The state board would continue to propose rules in such areas as standards and assessment, teacher certification, graduation and course requirements, attendance, truancy and discipline issues, special education, and charter schools.

The second bill, however, ensures that most policy decisions are made by the seven-member, governor-appointed board. It would also delete several outdated duties, such as enforcement of a now-defunct 1978 schools-desegregation order.

"Making our state education agency more efficient will make it more effective in improving our overall system," Mr. Carper said. "The current system is outdated and should be changed to reflect a more modern educational structure for our state."

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