September 20, 2000 1 min read

Party Lines

Politicians under fire sometimes shrink from the media spotlight. But not Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, who is attracting even more attention now that she’s heading up Gov. Paul R. Cellucci’s efforts to improve student performance on a critical state test.

Elected in 1998, Ms. Swift became embroiled in an ethics probe after questions arose about a series of actions she had taken, including having members of her staff babysit her young daughter and flying home during Thanksgiving week in a state police helicopter.

A week before Gov. Cellucci and Lt. Gov. Swift, both Republicans, presented their education agenda on Aug. 30, the state ethics commission ruled that at the very least, Ms. Swift had created the appearance of a conflict of interest. Penalties in the probe are pending.

State education officials say they welcome Ms. Swift’s new focus on raising scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

Lt. Gov. Jane Swift

“We’re excited that the governor has decided that this is so important that he has his lieutenant governor working on it,” said Deputy Commissioner of Education Alan P.G. Safran.

But her new role—what local newspapers have labeled “education czarina"—has left some people confused. “We’re not quite sure how this fits with the position of the commissioner,” said Stephen E. Gorrie, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. “Just because you happen to be in the top echelon of government doesn’t mean you know what’s needed to improve schools.”

He called Ms. Swift’s drive to recruit volunteer tutors for 10th graders who don’t pass the exam on the first try next spring “a nice gesture.” But he questioned whether the initiative was just a political move from an administration that has delivered “more rhetoric than reality” on education.

—Linda Jacobson