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Bush names education leaders

The new secretary is a GOP legislator, and the board chairman was influential in this year's overhaul of the state system.

By BARRY KLEIN and ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001


The new secretary is a GOP legislator, and the board chairman was influential in this year's overhaul of the state system.

TALLAHASSEE -- Jim Horne, a Republican legislator who makes his living as an accountant, will be the top officer in Florida's newly revised education system, Gov. Jeb Bush announced Wednesday.

Bush also unveiled his seven picks for the new state Board of Education, which will oversee public schools, community colleges and Florida universities.

His choice for chairman is Phil Handy, the Winter Park businessman and Republican fundraiser who led the task force that designed the overhaul.

Other selections include Julia Johnson, a former chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission; William Proctor, longtime president of Flagler College; T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami; and Carolyn Roberts, an Ocala real estate agent who once was chairwoman of the state Board of Regents.

"We have found people of experience (and) integrity. Reformers -- people who in their life experience have challenged systems to make them better," Bush said.

Much of the attention Wednesday was on the appointment of Horne to the new position of secretary of education, where for the next 18 months he will oversee the transition to a governance system experts say is unlike any in the United States.

Though critics have noted that Horne, 42, has no formal experience in education administration, Bush said he was an easy choice.

An influential member of the state Senate, Horne has served on legislative committees that decide how to spend Florida's education money.

Bush said he is one of the few people in Florida who actually understand the funding formula for education.

"I think Jim Horne is perhaps the most qualified person to carry out this task," Bush said.

During the last legislative session, Horne co-sponsored the bill that on July 1 will abolish the regents, create new university boards of trustees and open his new job.

The bill did not include minimum qualifications for the position. Horne, in fact, was one of several lawmakers who argued that none were necessary.

"This appointment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said after the announcement. "I plan to exceed the highest expectations."

Bush had promised his picks for the state Board of Education would emphasize diversity, and for the most part, he delivered.

Two of the seven appointees are African-American and one is Hispanic. Three live in South Florida, two live in North Florida and two are from the Orlando area. None lives in the Tampa Bay area or has direct ties to the University of South Florida.

The diversity, however, does not extend to ideology.

Five of the seven appointees are Republicans. Only Johnson, one of the two African-Americans, is a Democrat. Fair, the other black appointee, lists no political affiliation. But Fair is a good friend of Bush, who several years ago helped him open a charter school in Miami's Liberty City community.

There is one other element missing from the appointments: firsthand experience in Florida's public universities.

Five of the seven board members earned their college diplomas at out-of-state or private schools.

Once again, Johnson is among the exceptions. She earned both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

"I received a good education," she said. "One that made me smart enough to realize the world is changing."

Bush's appointments mark the formal beginning of what is thought to be an unprecedented experiment in education governance.

After the regents are eliminated July 1, their authority will be split between the state board and the new university boards: 13-member panels that will oversee the day-to-day operations of their institution.

Education experts say no other state gives a single board such a broad range of authority: The new Board of Education will set state policy for everything from kindergarten to post-graduate work.

And none invests so much authority in its governor. By the end of June, Bush will have appointed 139 members to the new boards.

A group led by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., says the new system leaves the university system wide open to political interference. The group will soon begin raising money to put an initiative on the November 2002 ballot that would throw out the Republican-led overhaul and replace it with a different system.

Robin Gibson, a former regents chairman and spokesman for the group, said Bush was smart to appoint a state senator as his first education secretary.

"The appointment recognizes reality," Gibson said. "It recognizes the need to have a politician to deal with the power of the Legislature, which will dominate this system."

Bush and Horne said the new system will be driven by the needs of students rather than the desires of an established bureaucracy.

They said it will create a "seamless education system" and predicted it would become a model for other states.

Such a system, Horne said, would allow community colleges to work more closely with high schools in developing vocational courses that prepare students for jobs once they leave high school.

And the new system should save money, Bush said, because "the bureaucracy will be streamlined."

But it won't be streamlined at the top -- at least not yet. The state will keep two well-paid education czars, Horne and Education Commissioner Charlie Crist, on the public payroll until Crist's position is phased out at the end of 2002.

The two men said they will work together, with Horne handling the transition and Crist managing the daily affairs of the Education Department.

Horne said he will be paid the same as Crist, who earns about $119,000 annually. But he said the Education Board could raise his salary down the road.

That seems certain. One of Horne's new duties, for example, will be to supervise the chancellor of Florida's university system.

Right now, that is Judy Hample. She is paid $225,000 annually, along with a $20,000 housing allowance.

The members of the new state board will not be so fortunate. Like the regents, their positions are unpaid.

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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