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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

And the search for state ed commissioner is on...



TAMPA -- In an emergency meeting of the State Board of Education this morning, board members decided to hire Ray and Associates, Inc., an Iowa-based search firm, to help them find a replacement for resigning Commissioner of Education Eric Smith.

The board asked the firm to move ahead with an aggressive time line, by bringing them applications by May 25 and conducting interviews by June 1.

Smith resigns June 10. So far, he has not spoken in depth about his decision to leave and declined comment again Thursday morning.

Board members indicated they are looking for someone with similar characteristics as Smith. Roberto Martinez even went so far as to say he hopes to find "Eric Smith's twin."

Board member John Padget asked each of the vendors whether they were familiar with the Chiefs for Change, an alliance of five state school chiefs led by former Gov. Jeb Bush who, according to the web site, "share a zeal for education reform." Besides Smith, they include Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, Louisiana state superintendent Paul Pastorek and Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson.

Asked afterward about his interest in those leaders, Padget said he didn't want to be quoted talking about the group. "I think the board is united that we really want to have superstars. And where are the superstars? They're the Race to the Top winners or they've been recognized by their colleagues as leaders in reform."

During the board's questioning, none of the firms' representatives said they knew of the Chiefs for Change by name. But Ray and Associates was the search firm employed when Gist was hired in Rhode Island.

Board member Kathleen Shanahan said during the meeting that she believed Gist might have an interest in the Florida job as Rhode Island elected a new governor in November. But Shanahan said afterward that she didn't want to comment further. Later this afternoon, she clarified that she has not spoken to Gist.

"There's a lot of interest in the Florida commissioner job and there's a lot of interested parties interested in finding the right person for the job," she said.

Ray and Associates was one of three vendors competing for the job and had the lowest bid. Milwaukee-based firm Noeske and Associates, which helped find Smith, and Illinois-based Young, Attea and Associates, both offered to do the search for $35,000.

[Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 2:39pm]


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