Does appointing an education commissioner lead to better qualifications?
When pitching the move from an elected to an appointed Florida education commissioner, supporters of the switch suggested the state could, among other things, get more professional educators into the post.
That result has occurred, for the most part. But as pressure to return to an elected commissioner mounts, it remains an open question whether it's been for the best.
As Sen. Bill Montford, also head of the state superintendent's association, noted, Florida has both elected and appointed superintendents who are high performing year after year. Talk rises about switching from one model to the other mostly when there's controversy over policies or practices.
Pasco voters, for instance, have routinely rejected the idea of having an appointed superintendent because they largely haven't had massive problems with an elected one. One county north, in Hernando, voters moved to an appointed post in 1992 amid a dispute over decisions between the elected leader and school board members.
How have our past commissioners' credentials stacked up? Here's the list from the past 30 years.
Betty Castor (1986–1994): A secondary school teacher, Castor served three terms in the Florida Senate from Tampa before becoming the first woman elected to the Cabinet.
Douglas L. Jamerson (1994–1995): A career specialist and guidance counselor, Jamerson was named to replace Castor. He had been the first African-American elected to the Legislature from Pinellas County.
Frank T. Brogan (1995–1999): An elementary teacher who later became elected superintendent of Martin County schools, Brogan served one term as commissioner before becoming lieutenant governor.
Tom Gallagher (1999–2001): An insurance salesman, Gallagher was a lawmaker and state treasurer before running for education commissioner.
Charlie Crist (2001–2003): A lawyer, Crist served in the Florida Senate and ran for U.S. Senate before becoming Florida’s last elected education commissioner.
Jim Horne (2003–2004): An accountant and state senator, Horne was Florida’s first appointed education commissioner.
John L. Winn (2004–2007): Winn worked as a teacher and Department of Education official before taking over the department.
Jeanine Blomberg (interim) (2007): Blomberg was a long-time DOE official before her brief stint on the job.
Eric J. Smith (2007 2011): A veteran science teacher, Smith was a large district superintendent and a College Board vice president prior to moving to Florida.
John L. Winn (interim) (2011): Winn returned to help the department after Smith’s resignation under fire.
Gerard Robinson (2011 – 2012): Robinson's career focused on public education policy -- he headed the Black Alliance for Educational Options and served as Virginia education secretary -- before his year as Florida commissioner. He spent one year teaching in the early 1990s.
Pam Stewart (interim) (2012): A former teacher, principal and district administrator, Stewart was K-12 chancellor when asked to run the department after Robinson’s departure.
Tony Bennett (January – August, 2013): A teacher and principal, Bennett had lost his reelection bid as Indiana education commissioner just before taking the Florida job.
Pam Stewart (August 2013 - current): The Board of Education chose Stewart to replace Bennett after his abrupt resignation over Indiana political problems.