Scott Mends Fences With State Board of Education

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida


Gov. Rick Scott made friendly overtures to the State Board of Education in the wake of a critical letter the board chair sent blasting Scott’s treatment of outgoing Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith.

Smith said on Monday he is resigning from his post in June. Smith was hired in 2007 as education commissioner and has been a champion of efforts to reform how teachers are paid by tying salaries to test scores.

In a letter on Tuesday, State Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair also announced his resignation after eight years on the board, and blamed Scott. “It is distressing that the governor made no effort to meet with Commissioner Smith, at any time, since his inauguration,” Fair wrote. He ridiculed the board’s move toward selecting a new commissioner.

“This board, including its new members, merely provides the votes to affirm the governor’s choice,” Fair wrote. “It seems pointless to put on a public display that gives the impression that the decision will ultimately rest with the board.”

The State Board of Education holds the responsibility for selecting the commissioner, though board members are appointed by the governor.

The State Board of Education set an emergency meeting for Thursday morning to discuss finding a replacement for Smith. Several board members disclosed at the meeting that they had received phone calls from Scott on Wednesday, smoothing over a bit the ruffled feathers in the wake of Fair’s letter.

Board member Roberto Martinez said in his first conversation with Scott, the governor indicated his support for the board’s involvement in picking a successor to Smith and assured him of his interest in education.

Smith confirmed he had also received a call from Scott, which he called a “positive conversation.”

The board voted Thursday to direct the Department of Education to select up to three search firms to find the next education commissioner. The board will meet as soon as possible to pick a search firm and from there winnow down a list of candidates. Many board members said they wanted to find a replacement urgently.

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