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Bill could place more control over Florida teacher discipline in commissioner’s hands

If passed, the measure would give the department head more say over the Education Practices Commission.

Ever since taking over as Florida education commissioner, Richard Corcoran has worked to give his office and the board he serves more authority in overseeing local schools.

They have over time repeatedly raised the specter of penalizing school boards, superintendents and school districts for things that in the past the systems were trusted to accomplish. Such threats have come up when reviewing whether schools are providing lessons required in law, for instance.

Officials also have discussed seeking power to take over struggling schools if the department determines that districts haven’t done enough to turn them around. Lately, a statewide grand jury proposed tougher consequences for school leaders who do not adequately follow security laws.

Now a state lawmaker has proposed giving the commissioner more control over the system that oversees investigations into teacher misconduct.

Senate Education committee chairman Manny Diaz has tucked into a bill on teacher preparation (SB 1220) a provision that would have the state education commissioner select, manage and potentially remove the executive director of the Education Practices Commission.

The EPC is an autonomous, quasi-judicial agency that hears complaints of teacher misconduct and determines punishments up to the cancellation of state certification. It’s made up of appointees who must be approved by the State Board of Education, and it bases its hearings on investigations conducted by the commissioner’s office.

Currently, it takes a three-fourths vote of the EPC membership to appoint an executive director, and a majority vote to dismiss that person.

If Diaz were to pass his bill, the commission would lose that power.

Instead, the education commissioner would hold sole authority to appoint and remove the executive director, with the advice and consent of the EPC chairman. The commissioner also would determine the executive director’s administrative duties.

The EPC’s role still would remain separate and distinct from the department. So far, there is no House companion to Diaz’s bill.