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Board of Education looking for commissioner applicants

Florida’s Board of Education is moving forward with its search for a new education commissioner, with board members on Friday setting a tentative Sept. 27 deadline for applicants to express interest.

The board is also spending up to $15,000 on a professional education-oriented search firm, Iowa-based Ray and Associates, to assist in recruiting qualified candidates. That firm’s president, Gary Ray, said Friday that several applications for the commissioner job have been received, and the firm has identified more than 20 possible candidates.

Whoever ultimately wins the job will replace former Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, who resigned last month. Robinson held the job for a little over a year, and his tenure was marred by criticism of the state’s standardized-testing policies — policies that took a credibility hit after the state flubbed the math on its school-grade calculations. The state ultimately had to adjust school grades for more than 200 schools, and nine district-wide grades were also changed. Earlier, the state revised the passing score for some writing tests after results plunged.

When it comes to setting policy, Florida’s education commissioner typically follows the lead of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the overwhelmingly Republican state Legislature. The official job advertisement for the commissioner post expresses a desire for a candidate familiar with “successful education reform efforts” happening both in Florida and nationally.

“Reform efforts may include but are not limited to teacher tenure & evaluation, universal choice & voucher system, and performance-based pay,” the advertisement states.

An alliance of education and community groups - including the Dade Association of School Administrators, the Florida PTA and the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Little Haiti - outlined their own criteria for the job in a joint statement to Scott.

On its list: Someone who will reduce the emphasis on high-stakes testing, have no conflicts of interest regarding privatization, test publishing or lobbying, and would favor eliminating zero tolerance discipline policies, among other qualifications.

The Orlando-based group Fund Education Now is asking parents and educators to email Scott

"We want a leader that puts the needs of students and their teachers ahead of the high paid lobbyists that represent for-profit charter operators and private voucher programs," according to the group's website.

Salary for the commissioner job, according to the state advertisement, will be “up to $275,000, plus an excellent comprehensive benefits package.”