TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida education commissioner Eric Smith is leaving that post in June, saying he wants to give new Gov. Rick Scott a say in a successor who will pursue his goals.
But the chairman of the State Board of Education, T. Willard Fair of Miami, said Monday he wants Smith to change his mind.
“There is nothing that anybody can tell me that would make me accept his resignation,” Fair told The Associated Press. “There is too much at stake for me to be that selfish.”
In a release from his office earlier Monday, Smith said he told members of the board about his plans to resign effective June 10, which is the final day of the current school year. The board, the members of which are appointed by the governor, makes the hiring and firing decisions on the education commissioner.
“Commissioner Smith had to do what he thought was best, and he is very respectful of Gov. Scott and the new governor’s desire to have his leaders in place,” said board member Mark Kaplan, adding that he hadn’t seen any rift between the governor and Smith on education issues.
“I think they are both very forward-looking,” Kaplan said.
Smith served during a tumultuous time in Florida education, with budgets already being cut when he took over in October 2007 and lawmakers challenging teacher tenure while promoting merit pay and relaxing classroom size standards.
The state’s education commissioner heads the Department of Education, which oversees the state’s public schools, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, and community and state colleges.
“The future is promising and very exciting for our students,” said Smith, who informed the Scott administration of his decision on Friday. Smith, who earned $275,000 annually as commissioner, did not reveal his future plans.
“We’ve never had a better reputation as a leader in education,” said Fair, who was named to the board by former Gov. Jeb Bush. Like Kaplan, Fair said he was unaware of any issues between Smith and Scott.
But Scott didn’t sound like he was troubled, or surprised, by Smith’s decision. In a terse one-paragraph statement Monday, the governor thanked the departing commissioner for his service.
Smith, who will turn 61 on Wednesday, was named to head Florida’s education system during the first year of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s administration. He was previously a senior vice president with the New York-based College Board, which administers the SAT; a superintendent in Annapolis, Md., and Charlotte, N.C.; and a principal in Winter Park.
Former Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who served as an unpaid adviser to Scott during his transition, said she is not interested in replacing Smith.
“Clearly that’s not in the cards,” Rhee told The Associated Press, noting her recent startup of a national educational reform group she’s named “Students First.”
She does, however, plan to continue to work with Florida’s new Republican governor.
“We’re really focused right now on working with the governor around these legislative efforts,” she said.
After electing its education commissioners for decades, Florida switched to an appointed commissioner in 2003, when a constitutional amendment reshuffled the Cabinet.