Policy Brief

State Chiefs' Roster Beset by Turnovers

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If you are a former state schools chief who was recently voted out, tactfully eased out, or unceremoniously pushed out of office, take heart. You weren’t alone on your way out the door.

So far this year, 19 states have seen new schools chiefs come into office, and five other states are currently conducting searches for new leaders, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which says the turnover this year has been unprecedented.

Why the heavy churn? In a few cases, like that of longtime Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, officeholders simply decided to retire.

Some turnover can be tied to last fall’s elections, which featured seven state schools chiefs’ races on the ballot, and which saw Republicans wrest control of a majority of governor’s offices and a record number of state legislative seats. Governors often try to install their own picks as state chiefs, or arrange to have their appointees to state boards of education do it for them. After all, having an ideologically like-minded person in the education job makes it easier to govern—particularly if you’re a governor with a controversial agenda.

But changeovers can lead to ill will. A few months after Florida Gov. Rick Scott took office, for instance, Commissioner of Education Eric J. Smith announced he would resign, a move that drew an angry response from the state school board’s then-chairman. The former chairman implied that the governor, a Republican, had shunned Mr. Smith and was trying to control the board’s hiring of a replacement.

On June 21, the Florida’s State board made its selection, choosing Gerard Robinson, Virginia’s secretary of education, as the next commissioner.

In Ohio, state Superintendent of Education Deborah Delisle announced in March that she would resign, after she said she was pressured to do so by Republican Gov. John Kasich’s staff.

Don't be surprised to see more turnover in the months ahead, including some voluntary resignations. With state lawmakers across the nation pushing for major, and in many cases unpopular, changes in school policy—in some cases paired with K-12 budget cuts—these aren't the easiest times to be a state schools chief.

Vol. 30, Issue 36, Page 26

Published in Print: July 13, 2011, as State Chiefs' Roster Beset by Turnovers
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