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Gov. Scott, Jeb ally at odds over Smith's departure



Apparently, folks were even angrier than they let on about the role Gov. Rick Scott played in Monday's surprise announcement that Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith is stepping down. Longtime board chair T. Willard Fair, a close ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush, fired off a letter to fellow board members, saying he was dismayed by how the process unfolded, distressed that Scott didn't meet with Smith and alarmed by the governor's "dismissive treatment of this board."

Board members said during an emergency meeting this morning - scheduled to begin the process of finding Smith's replacement - that Scott called them this week to say he recognized Smith’s accomplishments and wanted to see Florida continue making strides in improving its schools. Read more here.

Read on for the entirety of Fair's letter:

Fellow Board Members,

While I am still absorbing the resignation of Commissioner Eric Smith, I think it is important to clarify a few points, in response to Board Member, Roberto Martinez’s comments this morning.

First, while I respect Governor Rick Scott’s desire to put his own Commissioner in place, it is distressing that the Governor made no effort to meet with Commissioner Smith, at any time, since his Inauguration. Therefore, the Governor cannot know whether Commissioner Smith would have been the right person to carry his educational priorities forward.

Second, it is not Commissioner Smith’s responsibility to conduct the search for his replacement. That responsibility would normally fall squarely on this Board. However, these are not normal circumstances.

In fact, the notion that this Board should immediately commence a “national search” for a new Commissioner, flies in the face of the reality that Governor Scott will choose his new Commissioner. This Board, including its
new members, will merely provide the votes that affirm the Governor’s choice. Therefore, it seems pointless to put on a public display that gives the impression that the decision will ultimately rest with the Board. 

I am dismayed by the process that has unfolded, regarding Commissioner Smith, whose many achievements - from the improvements in statewide test scores on the FCAT and nationally on the NAEP, to the steps taken to
close the racial achievement gap among Florida’s students, to our State’s successful “Race to the Top” application - were alluded to in Board Member Martinez’s letter.

I am also alarmed by the Governor’s dismissive treatment of this Board, which after all, hired Eric Smith, but which was not consulted, regarding the Governor's desire to divest the State of his services.

Commissioner Smith will go on to new successes, and will be an asset to whatever organization benefits from Florida’s loss. But I strongly disagree that this process should not be debated.

As you know, my term as Board Chairman, termed-out on December 31, 2010. However, as per tradition, I have stayed on until the Governor selects my replacement. As my final act as Chairman, I resoundingly reject
Commissioner Smith’s resignation. And I hereby tender my immediate resignation from the Board.
T. Willard Fair

[Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 12:45pm]


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