Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts announced plans last week to roll oversight of the state’s education agencies into a central board and turn the board’s management over to his former political rival, Boston University President John R. Silber.
Mr. Weld’s attempt to streamline state government would hand over control of all aspects of K-12 education to a new state board of education and training. A separate board would be responsible for decisions on higher education.
At the same time, the governor is proposing a statewide school-voucher system that would give children state money to attend the public or private schools of their choice. All of the plans would require legislative approval.
Several states, including Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, made major moves this year to alter education governance and cut what sponsors said was the bureaucratic bloat in their education departments. Under Mr. Weld’s proposal, the Massachusetts education department and the Cabinet-level executive office of education would be abolished. They would become part of a new central board, along with the MassJobs Council, which has authority over job training.
But as news of the plan leaked out, many observers were most intrigued by the ironic twist of Gov. Weld’s reaching out to Mr. Silber, the private university’s outspoken president.
In 1990, the Republican governor narrowly defeated Mr. Silber, who ran as a Democrat, to win his first term. The race was one of the state’s closest in recent memory, with Mr. Weld edging out his opponent by about 50,000 votes.
Kevin Carleton, a spokesman for the university, said last week that Mr. Silber had discussed the governor’s ideas with him but had not formally accepted the offer to head the new board. Other top education officials, however, said an announcement was expected by this past weekend.
Under the proposal, the board chairman would work part time and would not be paid, meaning Mr. Silber would probably not step down from his current post. Mr. Weld has not indicated that he would appoint Mr. Silber to the state school board while lawmakers consider the new system.
The Boston College president has already shown an interest in overseeing the state’s public schools. For the past six years, his university has run the troubled Chelsea school district, just north of Boston, under a management contract.
He is also thought to be a cheerleader for Mr. Weld’s views on school reform. The governor has called for a host of changes highlighted by an expansion of the state’s charter-school program and creation of a voucher plan.
Mr. Weld’s own reform plans surfaced as architects of the state’s 1993 school-reform law warned of a waning commitment to paying for its changes.
Sen. Thomas F. Birmingham, the co-chairman of the legislature’s joint education committee when the law was drafted, told a group of business and public officials in Boston last month that it has become more difficult each year to persuade lawmakers to set aside money for the reforms. The law is being phased in over seven years, and its backers anticipated $200 million annual increases in state education aid. The law required new state achievement standards and a core curriculum, created the charter-school program, and promised more state aid to school districts.
Mr. Birmingham explained that communities throughout the state are also trying to scale back local funding for the reforms as they wrestle with tight budgets for other public services.
The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, meanwhile, released a progress report on the law last month that called for the state to reconsider how it distributes aid to schools and to put off plans to link high school graduation requirements to a new statewide test. It also stressed that Gov. Weld and state lawmakers would have to do more to drum up continued public support.
A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 1995 edition of Education Week as Weld Proposes Single K-12 Board To Be Headed by Silber