Vermont News Briefs

Vermont State Board of Education opens national search for new secretary of education

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.”

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Anne Galloway

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    We recently read an article praising Milton Friedman. Let me quote the article.
    Let parents have an education voucher, like the GI Bill, to spend at the school that they believe is best suited to meet the needs of their children; then let all sorts of schools compete for empowered consumers. That consumer choice and provider competition model is making great progress in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Louisiana, and Arizona. (In Vermont, it’s a constant battle against bureaucrats and the teachers union just to preserve the tuition town choice system in place since 1859.)

    If the system is broken, let us roll up our sleeves and come up with a system that does work, bar none. We do not need to raise children that emerge from High School unable to work and have to become killers.

  • The single most important question for any prospective secretary candidate: Will you (the candidate) follow the policies as set by the State Board of Education – the process prescribed by law; or will you follow the policies as set by the Governor – the process as prescribed by the Governor?

  • Kelly Stettner

    Hear, hear, Alex!!!! Just because the system we currently have is the system we’ve always had doesn’t mean our current system WORKS. It needs to be dismantled, extricated from the teachers union (dismantle that, too!), and redesigned from scratch.


      The generosity of the taxpayer and the system of taxation will adequately fund, as Milton Friedman suggested, a form of education that would eliminate a lot of waste. If the laws that govern education need to be changed, that is the easy part. The more difficult challenge would be to find a venue to educate the children. I can imagine a system where the parents and children chose their teachers and courses. I chose to educate my children in a privately run school that was only 1/3 of the cost of a public school education and my children were tested post high school in their JUNIOR year. Privately run schools will spring up all over the place and do a better job for a lot less than the cost of a public school education. If the money is there in the form of vouchers, teachers will become very good at teaching and the ones who cannot, will do something else.

  • Julie Hansen


    I think, unfortunately,the possibility for that discussion no longer exists. The law has been changed. Many agencies and associations testified against this change, but to no avail. Those of us who were opposed felt that the State Board of Ed did,at least,provide a buffer between education policy and state politics.

    Isn’t it the job of any cabinet member to carry the vision of the executive?

    I don’t have a good feeling about the impact this will have on education, but any of us who care need to pay close attention and be ready to speak out quickly, because in addition to providing a buffer zone, the State Board slowed things down suffiently to give people a chance to reflect and then to speak about whatever changes were coming down.

    I notice that you have commented before on education, so I hope you stay involved.

    • Julie, I’m making a direct reference to the law as outlined in Act 98 of 2012 that gives the state board the job to “establish and advance education policy for the state of Vermont” (see According to Shumlin, however, the authority to establish education policy rests with him! I’ve talked with several state legislators who expressed surprise at Shumlin’s interpretation.

      But Shumlin will be hiring the Agency Secretary – and the board will have a CEO who doesn’t answer to the board. It is imperative that any prospective Secretary of Education state in public that it is the state board and NOT the governor that establishes our state’s education policy.

      There is no room for wiggle on this.

  • Julie Hansen

    Hi again, Rama,

    I hope that you are correct about the “wiggle.” I am not so confident. I don’t disagree with you about the importance of clarity with regard to the authority of the board in relation to the commissioner. I worry that the goal is give primacy to the governor’s policies and ideas.

    As it was explained to me, the biggest challenge with regard to making the commissioner a secretary was to re-define the board’s duties. Next will be to more tightly define the the commissioner’s duties. I am worried about the extent of his or her authority to make changes that may or may not be in the best interests of quality education in Vermont.

    I guess we will find out.