Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida could have tough time snagging a new education commissioner

Three commissioners and two interim commissioners have gone through the state Department of Education in Gov. Rick Scott's 31 months.


Three commissioners and two interim commissioners have gone through the state Department of Education in Gov. Rick Scott's 31 months.

Here we go again.

For the third time in two years, Florida needs a new education commissioner.

"This is a disappointment that we are having to face this same leadership challenge again," said Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who added that she isn't interested in the job and doesn't know anyone who is.

Despite its national reputation in school reform circles, Florida hasn't found it easy to attract — or keep — a leader since Gov. Rick Scott took office. Three commissioners and two interim commissioners have gone through the state Department of Education in Scott's 31 months. Tony Bennett, a rising star in education reform, lasted six months. His predecessor, Gerard Robinson, was on the job for one year.

That track record could make it tough for Florida to recruit top-tier candidates.

"Good luck with that," said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, who called Bennett's departure a "big loss for Florida."

Andy Smarick, former deputy education commissioner for New Jersey and a player in reform circles, said the constant churn sends the wrong signal.

"People qualified to be state chiefs take very seriously the political environment in the states they are considering," he said. "They know changes in elections, changes in state boards, can leave them quickly without a job. That's an issue."

Florida's Board of Education is expected to name K-12 chancellor Pam Stewart the interim commissioner Friday. She served in the role before Bennett's selection in December. Stewart declined to comment Thursday.

In at least one corner of the state, the idea of returning the decision to voters has increasing appeal. The last elected commissioner was Charlie Crist.

"If our state's voters can be entrusted with going to the polls and electing the Florida commissioner of agriculture, then certainly they should be able to elect the state's education commissioner," Sharon Glickman, president of the Broward Teachers Union, said in a statement.

State Sens. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, and Greg Evers, R-Baker, proposed just that last year, but the idea died in committee.

In many ways, the top job has been a tough sell since Scott ushered out former Commissioner Eric Smith in 2011.

A search for Smith's replacement attracted mostly second-tier candidates. Robinson, Virginia's secretary of education, eventually was selected. He resigned abruptly after a rocky year spent defending the state's accountability system against a public outcry over dramatic drops in test scores.

Yet another search brought another lackluster pool of candidates. After the search was extended, Bennett lost his re-election bid as Indiana's education commissioner and Florida quickly hired him.

With Bennett gone, state board member John Colon said he expects the board to move ahead with a national search for a full-time replacement.

Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman for the Education Department, said there's no information on how a search will proceed.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, whose name has been floated for the job before, took a more optimistic view than most. He doesn't think the state will have trouble attracting good candidates.

"The fact that this is a significant challenge makes it attractive to remarkable leaders," he said.

Asked if he wanted the job, however, Carvalho said no. He has a contract until 2020.

Times/Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Florida could have tough time snagging a new education commissioner 08/01/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 11:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  2. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  3. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]
  4. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    In their third year with pitching coach Neil Allen, the Twins have been one of the surprises of the American League.
  5. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond


    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff’s Office on Friday.