Senate Education Committee members on Tuesday deferred a decision on a plan to give the state’s education commissioner a free hand to restructure his department, instead scheduling a hearing for next week on a second proposal.
State Sen. John Reagan, who chairs the committee, said that a hearing Tuesday will give the committee and the public a chance to weigh in on his initial proposal, along with a new plan being pitched by state Sen. David Watters.
“We hope to come out with something that allows the commissioner to actually manage his department,” said Reagan, a Deerfield Republican.
At Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s request, Reagan last week filed legislation to absorb all of the department’s divisions into the commissioner’s office. The proposal, which had been tacked on to an unrelated education bill, sparked controversy with education advocates, Democrats, and unions.
Edelblut defended the proposal by saying prior commissioners had already moved people around the department in a way that didn’t align with statute. He said he wanted a way to bring the department into compliance with the law and give himself the opportunity to do some restructuring of his own.
Some critics called the move a power grab by the new commissioner, but many mostly argued that the proposal was a massive change and deserved at least a hearing.
Watters, a Dover Democrat, has suggested two new amendments, which he said have Edelblut’s support. The first would allow the commissioner to transfer functions within the department’s existing four divisions after he seeks advice from the State Board of Education and division heads. The second would create a five-member study committee of lawmakers to look into the larger structure of the department.
The committee members would “study the organizational structure of the department of education and the duties and responsibilities of the commissioner of education,” according to the amendment. The committee could then recommend legislation for next session.
Reagan said he liked the first part of Watters’s proposal but didn’t see the need for the second part.
“We just don’t need another study committee. There’s just way too many,” Reagan said.
He also said he resented the uproar about his proposal in the first place, chalking it up to partisan politicking. Democrats just want to make it look like Republicans “can’t govern,” he said.
“Republicans haven’t done that to any Democrat governor or his appointees,” he said.
(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)