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. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]
  3. Man injured when small helicopter crashes into Odessa home


    ODESSA — A small manned helicopter crashed into the roof of a house in northwest Hillsborough County on Monday, injuring a pilot, officials said.

    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]
  4. State investigation cites multiple failures in death of Largo child


    LARGO — It was sweltering in the bedroom of the Largo mobile home the day a child welfare case manager visited in July.

    Liz Rutenbeck, 24, poses with her son William in a Facebook photo. Baby William Hendrickson IV died while his mother was in jail after police said his father left ihim in a sweltering room.  A state investigation into the boy's death found multiple failures on the part of the child welfare system.
  5. 'Siesta Key' star punched in face, not sure who did it


    TAMPA —Alex Kompothecras, cast member on MTV's reality show "Siesta Key," tells police he was punched in the face outside a bar in Tampa's SoHo district.

    Alex Kompothecras, Juliette Porter, Pauly Apostolides, Madisson Hausburg, Chloe Trautman, Garrett Miller, Kelsey Owens and Brandon Gomes pose for a photo in Siesta Key in June before the debut of the MTV reality series Siesta Key. [
EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]