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When You Start Calling Your State Education Chief Names...

By Michele McNeil — March 18, 2008 1 min read
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Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland last week hurled those labels at his state schools chief, Susan T. Zelman. Hired by her board of education in 1999, Zelman is well-liked in her state, and nationally as well. But from Strickland’s perspective, she’s not “visionary” enough, according to this report of Strickland’s visit to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board. (Hat tip to Ohio blogger ohdave.)

Strickland, who like a lot of governors wants to have more direct control over education, wants to essentially do away with her office and have his own education czar. And Zelman isn’t his choice.

But when you start making it personal—about Zelman—and not about the structure of government, then you’re bound to get pushback. And now, people are starting to rally around Zelman.

In Dayton Daily News reporter Scott Elliott’s blog, Elliott includes a letter of response from a state school board member, Carl Wick, who throws his own labels at the governor: “not dignified, virtuous or professional.” The board has reason to be angry, too, because Strickland wants to strip them of their powers and make them advisors only.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley tried to take down his chief—the venerable Nancy Grasmick. It didn’t work.

When I was working on a story for this week’s issue of EdWeek about how state boards of education are under siege, and having their power diluted, Brenda Welburn, the executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education made a good point. It went something like this: Just because Eliot Spitzer screws up in New York doesn’t mean you get rid of the office of governor, you get rid of him.

Politics is personal, and personalities in office change. So Welburn’s point is that governors should think hard before they start wanting to do away with an office entirely just because they don’t like who’s currently serving in it.

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