Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Governor Finds Himself Upended by Another Embarrassing Departure

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Governor Finds Himself Upended by Another Embarrassing Departure

Article excerpt

Gov. Rick Scott's effort to reinvent himself as the education governor took another hit on Thursday.

With the resignation of his education commissioner over charges that he'd inflated grades at charter schools for political reasons, Scott is again left searching for someone to lead a high-profile agency that has been a revolving door since he took office in 2011.

And it is raising political questions about Scott's eye for talent in filling top leadership positions. In the last 15 months alone, six top Scott administration officials have resigned amid controversy.

Nowhere is the turmoil more apparent than in the Department of Education. Three full-time commissioners and two acting leaders have run the agency since January 2011. The latest to resign was Commissioner Tony Bennett, a corporate reformer who is fighting accusations he recalculated Indiana testing to make sure a charter school scheduled to get a C would get an A instead.

Bennett told reporters on Thursday that he was resigning because he didn't want to put Scott in the position of having to defend him, but insisted he'd done nothing wrong.

Regardless of the reason, the move has repercussions for Scott's relationship with the Legislature and his own political future as he braces for a re-election bid in 2014.

"He made a difficult decision today with the best interest of his family in mind, and he will no doubt continue to make a great contribution wherever he chooses to serve next," Scott said in a statement to reporters about Bennett.

Scott's inability to find stable leadership in the Department of Education is the latest setback in a critical area that Democrats are preparing to make a focal point in their efforts to unseat the governor in 2014. They tag him as a leader who has slashed education spending, angered public school teachers on pension reforms and failed to provide leadership at the top education agency.

Scott has sought to distance himself from the backlash against his move to cut state education funding by more than $1 billion in 2011. He is also trying to overcome criticism by teachers and other public employees over requiring them to put more of their own money into their pensions -- a move they say amounts to a pay cut.

Scott also backed a plan to tie teacher pay increases to standardized test scores of students.

Scott has sought to regain his footing on education by proposing $2,500-per-teacher increases this year and a boost to education funding. But the complexities of the state's school funding formulas have had the unintended consequence of forcing at least 17 counties - - including Sarasota -- to raise property taxes to accomplish those goals.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, has said he's thinking about challenging Scott in 2014, and has made it clear that if he does, education will be front and center. …

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