Sunday, November 04, 2007

Al Smith's Modest Proposal on the Education Commissioner

Friday night long-time journalist and host of KET's Comment on Kentucky Al Smith went off on the original commissioner search, the present commissioner non-search, and the lacklustre quartet of finalists it produced. (KET video)
The result: "four write ins" of social security age.

Smith tailored his language a bit for a similar Op-Ed that ran in this morning's Herald-Leader.

He cited the weak effort to recruit candidates. "... just a few notices in education journals under Help Wanted and that we are an Equal Opportunity Employer (wink, wink), but Kentuckians preferred." And suggested, "The two men running for governor could stop this charade."

Next week, after the election, Gov. Ernie Fletcher can render a signal service to the state with a proposal to his appointees who dominate the board to do two things:

• Have a joint public meeting with him and his Democratic rival, Steve Beshear -- a civil discussion of educational issues from three perspectives: the two candidates and the board.

• Halt the hiring process until whoever has been elected governor can consult with his advisers and the legislative leadership about the maximum prospects for helping education with a bipartisan approach in the 2008 session of the General Assembly.

The board has no known reason to doubt that the interim commissioner, Kevin Noland, who has guided the department for almost a year, can carry on until spring.

At that point, the governor and the General Assembly should be positioned to forget the mishaps of 2007 and cheer the state board if it embarked on a truly professional national search to find the best qualified person worthy of Kentucky's modern educational legacy, which is the most sweeping effort ever made by any state to improve its schools.

The last time Smith's advice was ignored was mid July. That's when the board was going to hire an interim commissioner while searching for a permanent commissioner. Leon Mooneyhan was hung out to dry and Keith Travis learned that he did not have the full board behind him.

Smith has the right idea, but I think we can count on him being ignored again. At least, it's hard for me to imagine that Governor Fletcher, presently asking Kentuckians to ignore the polls which show him woefully behind, will make the 12th hour magnanimous gesture Smith suggests.

If he did reach out to Steve Beshear and the board on behalf of Kentucky's children, he would deserve great praise.

If things stay the way they are - Jon Draud should be the choice.

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