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Paige Given Prime Slot At the GOP Convention

It is a time slot often reserved for firebrand speakers and party favorites, and during the Republican National Convention next month, a portion of it will belong to Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Mr. Paige is one of three speakers who will address the convention in television prime time on Aug. 31, the second night of the GOP gathering in New York City. In handing that spot to the secretary, Republican convention organizers are granting him an unusually prominent role when compared with past education secretaries who addressed national political conventions.

GOP officials say Mr. Paige’s prime-time spot reflects the party’s desire to highlight President Bush’s role in promoting education reform, particularly through the No Child Left Behind Act, which he signed into law in 2002.

"The No Child Left Behind Act is an important issue for the president," said Judy Pino, a spokeswoman for the Republican convention. "It will definitely take center stage as a theme."

Mr. Paige’s visibility is likely to be heightened by the lineup of speakers scheduled to appear around him on Aug. 31. First lady Laura Bush, who has been touting her husband’s education record, is scheduled to address the convention before Mr. Paige. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California will follow him.

At the 1992 Republican convention in Houston, then-Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, now a U.S. senator from Tennessee, was given a second-night prime-time slot. He lauded the education accomplishments of President George H.W. Bush and accused the Democratic challenger, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, of being beholden to the National Education Association.

Richard W. Riley, who was secretary during President Clinton’s eight years in office, did not speak at the 1996 or 2000 Democratic National Convention, though he appeared at offshoot gatherings of teachers and advocates both years.

In 1988, William J. Bennett, President Reagan’s second education secretary—who had announced by then his intention to step down—spoke on the third night of the GOP convention in New Orleans.

Mr. Paige has occasionally sparked controversy with his public statements. Earlier this year, he likened the National Education Association to a "terrorist organization," a comment for which he later apologized.

Republican convention officials suggested that the secretary’s speech might touch on policy and personal themes. A statement notes that Mr. Paige, a former Houston schools superintendent who is the first African-American to serve as education secretary, is the son of a principal and a librarian who grew up in segregated Mississippi. It also describes him as serving "at the helm of the Department of Education during the most dramatic education reform in a generation."

Picket Fences

Boston’s school bus drivers and monitors plan to picket outside the Democratic National Convention site in the city later this month, daring delegates and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, to cross the picket line. Picket Fences: Boston’s school bus drivers and monitors plan to picket outside the Democratic National Convention site in the city later this month, daring delegates and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, to cross the picket line.

The 60,000-student school district’s 1,200 bus drivers and monitors have been working without a contract for about a year. The latest contract proposal called for a 10.5 percent wage increase over five years.

After Sen. Kerry honored the police union’s picket line at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Boston last month, the 1,450- member Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, which has been without a contract with the city for three years, announced that it would picket only events hosted by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The Democratic mayor has been at odds with the police bargaining unit.

But the school bus drivers’ and monitors’ union is showing no signs of mercy for Sen. Kerry and the Democratic delegates at the July 26-29 convention at the FleetCenter.

"We will expect them not to cross the picket line," said Rick Laine, a steward for the union.

Jonathan Palumbo, the spokesman for the Boston schools, said that of the district’s 10,194 unionized employees, only 650 workers are currently without a contract. That figure includes the 250 monitors, but not the roughly 850 bus drivers, who work for a private contractor called First Student.

"We’re committed to getting the deal done with all of our bargaining units," Mr. Palumbo said. "Not just because of the Democratic National Convention, but because school will be starting up again."

Meanwhile, in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers will join the city’s police and firefighter unions to set up "informational" pickets this month about the unions’ failed contract negotiations at Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican National Convention. A spokesman said there were no plans thus far to picket during the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 convention.

—Sean Cavanagh & Karla Scoon Reid

Vol. 23, Issue 42, Page 30

Published in Print: July 14, 2004, as Campaign Notebook
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