Secrecy mars selection of state’s education chief

By The Curry Coastal Pilot June 01, 2012 08:18 pm


Bold leadership without public support isn’t a prescription for success in public affairs.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan for the Oregon education system is certainly bold: It envisions an integrated education system that serves Oregonians from before birth through college, and sets demanding goals for the number of degrees granted.

His staff has traveled the state seeking support for the plan, which puts significant additional demands on organizations that serve families and students. While there are aspects of the plan we don’t favor, we can’t fault the effort to engage and inform the public.

But when it came time to choose the new education chief, who will have unprecedented power over the entire system, secrecy was the guiding principle.

The first public word about the identity of this powerful figure came Tuesday, just two days before the governor’s Oregon Education Investment Board hired him. (See story Page 10A.)

As recently as last week at a legislative committee meeting, gubernatorial spokesman Tim Nesbitt told legislators that names of the 50 candidates would not be revealed to protect their current jobs. That’s a familiar reason for secrecy that many accept up to a certain point. But when finalists have been identified for a position of such enormous influence, the public needs to know who they are and the reasoning behind the final selection.

This isn’t just any new state job. The person who fills it will direct a vast new plan — partly designed and understood by only a few — that will overhaul education at all levels. Education, remember, eats up more than half of the state’s budget.

The governor’s choice for the job is Rudy Crew, former chancellor of New York City’s public schools and now an education professor at the University of Southern California. Nike executive Julia Brim-Edwards, head of the screening team, described Crew as a man who will work toward bold solutions, not incremental change.

That sounds good, until you read that Crew was ousted from his New York job because he clashed with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and that he was fired by the Miami-Dade County school board over questions about management style and finances. Indeed, he hasn’t stayed long at any of the many positions he’s held in his 40-year career in education.

Is this the man who can design and sell a dramatically changed system to the educators and citizens of Oregon? The public might have more confidence in the governor’s choice if the process had been a more transparent one.

– Wescom News Service (The Bend Bulletin)