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Jamerson for Education

On Nov. 8, Florida voters will decide who will be state education commissioner for the next four years. Although much of the job is ceremonial, the responsibilities of preparing our schoolchildren for the next century make it one of the most essential posts in the Cabinet. Florida residents should vote carefully in this contest.

Fortunately, we have two able candidates, Democrat Doug "Tim" Jamerson, 47, and Republican Frank T. Brogan, 41. In these two, we also have a clear choice as to the direction Florida's public education should take.

Jamerson often speaks of his desire to return Florida to the "golden age" of education, when students respected their teachers, worked hard in class and did their homework. It was also a time when parents were more involved in their children's lives, when parent-teacher organizations had meaning and when campuses were safe. This was the model Jamerson had in mind in 1990 when he helped to create Blueprint 2000, the reform plan intended to move control of schools from Tallahassee to classroom teachers, parents and local school boards.

As a parent, former school guidance counselor, police officer, school security officer and minority recruiter, Jamerson is fully aware of the myriad problems in the schools. As a black man who has spent his adult life in Florida's public schools, Jamerson is dedicated to helping low-income and minority students achieve. He concedes that the school system has many problems, but he wants to solve them in a manner that will yield equitable results for everyone.

Jamerson's even-handed style comes from his 11 years in the Florida House, representing Pinellas County, and from serving as chairman of the House Education Committee. Gov. Lawton Chiles recognizedhis leadership abilities and made him interim education commissioner to finish out Betty Castor's term after the Board of Regents selected her to be president of the University of South Florida. Jamerson has proved himself as a strong commissioner who recognizes the bond between his department, social programs and the new Department of Juvenile Justice.

Jamerson's opponent, Brogan, has been the elected superintendent of Martin County schools since 1988. Although Martin is one of Florida wealthiest counties, Brogan still earned a reputation for streamlining the board's budget and maintaining good operations while many other counties cut back programs after Tallhassee reduced school spending. Four years ago, then-Commissioner of Education Castor selected Brogan as the state's top superintendent.

He supports the broad goals of Blueprint 2000, especially the provisions giving more control to local school boards. But Brogan's worrisome side emerges when he, like other Republicans, articulates his vision for improving the schools. Like Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush, whose ideas on education are extreme, Brogan would slash the Department of Education and implement what he calls a "competitive model," a scheme in which choice, charter and theme schools would be permitted.

We have no trouble with competition; neither does Jamerson. We worry, however, that if Bush is elected governor, Brogan will become a willing partner in Bush's counterproductive plans to dismantle the education department and institute a wides scale voucher system that would let wealthy parents use government money to subsidize private school tuition. Not only are these schemes intolerable, but the elimination of the education department would make Florida ineligible for essential federal programs, such as school lunch subsidies and Head Start, that benefit poor students.

Jamerson possesses the temperament, experience and philosophy to head the Department of Education. He is a known quantity. Based on his promising start as interim commissioner, plus his proven record as a competent legislator with a firm grasp of problems beyond education, the Times strongly recommends Jamerson on Nov. 8.