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Plug Pulled

Free speech proved a little too free for Vermont education officials who went soliciting public comments in cyberspace.

Earlier this month, the department shut down an e-mail discussion group designed to take comments on reports about Act 60, the state's controversial new law that restructures the school finance and property-tax systems.

About 120 people had signed on, but department officials were unhappy that instead of offering comments on the reports, some participants used the forum for attacks on the law itself. A nasty debate ensued, the officials said.

Department spokesman Tom Bisson said that the agency had received a few useful comments, but that some messages seemed simply mean-spirited.

"We learned something about a Listserv and its limitations," he said, adding that the department did not have the staff to properly monitor the discussion.

Officials had planned to close the forum shortly before the Jan. 15 deadline for comments.

In another turn of events, the department announced last week that due to popular demand, it would be starting another e-mail discussion group on the same topic, this one to be moderated by state Sen. Peter Brownell.

Act 60 aims to increase equity by replacing local property taxes with a statewide property tax. Some towns stand to lose funding for education and see higher taxes under the law.

Bowing out

Facing what would have been a hotly contested race for a third term, South Carolina state Superintendent Barbara Nielsen has announced she does not plan to seek re-election.

Ms. Nielsen, a Republican first elected in 1990, told reporters this month that though she has tried to serve the best interests of children, "public policy is too often developed ... through competing sound bites on the evening news."

The schools chief said she has faced political pressure from some in her own party who feel she is "too liberal" because she does not support private school vouchers.

And in recent months, Ms. Nielsen's administration came under scrutiny when a top official was indicted for his role in a case of alleged test-tampering.

Having restructured the state education department and developed statewide academic assessments, Ms. Nielsen said she feels that much of the hard work at the state level is complete.

Two GOP candidates, both of whom are said to be aligned with Ms. Nielsen's conservative critics, have announced plans to seek the job next fall. Two Democratic candidates also have plans to run.


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