TAMPA — MaryEllen Elia, superintendent of the Hillsborough County school district, has been named to Gov.-elect Rick Scott's education transition team, officials said Thursday.
She'll be the only representative from traditional public K-12 schools on an 18-member panel, which mirrors some of the incoming governor's preferences for free-market innovations like merit pay, charter schools and private school vouchers.
Michelle Rhee, who negotiated a controversial end to teachers' tenure protections as schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., is on the team. So is Dennis Bakke, CEO and president of the Virginia-based Imagine Schools; John Kirtley of the pro-voucher group Step Up for Students; and Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Such a grouping hints at the ferment under way in public education, as change-minded lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington consider new ways to boost student performance, improve teacher evaluation and offer new options for families.
The team also includes some heavyweights from higher education, including University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft and Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the state university system.
In a statement, Scott's staff said the team will help to "create a new education system for a new economy." It will seek innovative private-sector ideas to save money, make the state work force more competitive and reduce the size of government.
For one experienced observer, that sounded like a recipe for continuity.
"Florida has been at the cutting edge of school reform, and the people that are on this list have helped to craft those reforms," said Jim Warford, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators.
"A lot of folks like me have been holding our breath, wondering, are we going to lurch off in some new direction? No, we're not."
Still, there might be some awkward conversations on the new transition team.
Elia's district, for example, oversees 30 charter schools but last spring rejected an application by Bakke's company, Imagine, voicing doubts that its local board was sufficiently independent or nonprofit as the law requires.
And public school types aren't natural partners of those who advocate using public money to send children to private schools.
But Hillsborough — which has overhauled its own teacher evaluation system using a $100-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — has also supported Kirtley's voucher programs by training private school teachers in partnership with its teachers union.
What's important, Elia said, is that the state provide a first-rate education to every child, regardless of the school's type.
Elia said she was honored to help advise the incoming governor.
She predicted the new team might talk about merit pay, teacher evaluation and tenure, and the contentious issue of penalties for districts that failed to comply with the 2002 class-size amendment.
But anything could happen, Elia admitted.
"I have no idea how he wants to use the transition group," she said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.