The Erwin Debacle
Having failed to provide the state with an education board that can do the most basic of its assigned work, Gov. Ernie Fletcher should try again. He should ask this board to resign, then appoint one that can do the job.
No challenge is more pressing for Kentucky than the development of a competitive education system. But, with the exception of Gov. Fletcher's merit hiring conspiracy, no recent state government spectacle has been more embarrassing, or depressing, than the board's horribly botched effort to find a replacement for former Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit.
It leads one to believe the speculation that Gov. Fletcher was focused on appointing a board that would quietly share a right-wing fundamentalist school agenda, not one that could function properly
Having been given the commissioner's job, despite a career marked by destructive controversy -- not to mention unanswered questions about a faulty résumé and an investigation into the disappearance of her most recent personnel file -- Barbara Erwin has quit, blaming too much "scrutiny" and "continued noise by the media."
New entry for her personnel file, if it's ever found: cheap-shot artist.
Board chairman Keith Travis concedes the obvious: that hiring Dr. Erwin was a mistake. But what really wasn't in "our" best interest, as a state, was the board's resort to secrecy -- holding executive sessions to discuss "personal" issues (an exception not mentioned in state open meetings law) and to agree on a set of expectations for Dr. Erwin (as if those should be a state secret).
The only light in Lalaland is the fact that Kevin Noland, a longtime deputy commissioner, will continue as interim head of the Department of Education. He's smart, solid and possessed of institutional memory that goes back to the early days of K-12 reform.
With Mr. Noland in charge, there's no need to rush the undoing of this farce. The board must take the time to find the best possible candidate -- not some stealth conservative from inside Kentucky who, after some presumptively suitable waiting period, will be discovered to have just the right qualities for full-time appointment.