The State Board of Education has announced it will conduct a national search for a brand new position — the Secretary of the Agency of Education. It will recommend three candidates to the governor at the end of the year.
As of January, the Department of Education will become a state agency under the purview of the governor’s office and the new secretary will be a member of the cabinet.
Until now, the department has been isolated from political office. The State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor (with overlapping terms), had been charged with selecting the commissioner of the Department of Education, who serves as the titular head of the state’s independently governed local public schools.
Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin pushed for the change last legislative session and lawmakers overwhelmingly supported it. Former Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, testified in favor of altering the governance structure.
The new arrangement puts Armando Vilaseca, the commissioner of the Department of Education, in what he describes as an “awkward” position.
Vilaseca must reapply for his job, and he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll do so. If he is selected, he says he’s afraid people will think he was favored in some way. If he doesn’t, he says he’ll be professionally embarrassed.
“I’m not making a final decision until I see what the process is,” Vilaseca said. “It’s awkward for everyone — for me, the board and the governor’s office. What they should have done (I tried to stay out of it didn’t want anyone to think I was influencing the lawmakers) was allow the commissioner to automatically move into the secretary position, but that didn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, Vilaseca worries about his perceived lame duck status affecting his ability to “make things happen at the school level.”