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Published: Monday, 2/11/2008

Strickland's school plan criticized


COLUMBUS - Some education leaders say Gov. Ted Strickland's plan to expand his control over education policy by creating a cabinet-level education director would politicize Ohio's public schools.

State Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman, whose role could be greatly diminished under Mr. Strickland's plan, said it would undermine the independence, transparency, and continuity of public education.

"Do you want to take a public agency and take it away from the public or do you want to give it to the governor, with gubernatorial control? We have to ask ourselves what is best for Ohio children," Ms. Zelman said.

The Ohio Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, has not taken a position but has concerns, spokesman Michele Prater said.

"Change could occur more quickly with accountability directly tied to the governor, but, on the other hand, controlled public education by the governor's office could create [a] policy pendulum," Ms. Prater said.

Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1953 to create a state board of education that would take some of the politics out of public education, Ms. Prater said.

Under Mr. Strickland's plan, the director of education would be appointed by the governor. The role of the state superintendent and the State Board of Education would be determined by the director.

Ohio now has a mix of 11 governor-appointed and eight elected board members with a schools chief appointed by the board.

Ms. Zelman, appointed by Republican Gov. Bob Taft in 1999, said she remains committed to her job, despite the view of Mr. Strickland, a Democrat.

"I love my work, I love this state, and I'm confident this will all work out," Ms. Zelman said. "I'm not going to stop until Ohio is seen as the best state in the United States in terms of offering a world-class education."

In his speech, Mr. Strickland said, "The most important duty of the state should not be overseen by an unwieldy department with splintered accountability," Mr. Strickland said. Afterward, State Board of Education President Jennifer Sheets said she was surprised by Mr. Strickland's proposal.

"I have had a fairly good professional and personal relationship with the governor, who was my congressman," she said. "I'm disappointed he didn't see a need to contact me ahead of time."

Ms. Sheets later said she sent the governor a letter Friday, outlining her concerns about the proposal. "We need collaboration and cooperation, but he doesn't necessarily have to be in control," she said.

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