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Is Education Experience A Must For Vermont's New Ed Secretary? Scott Says No

Desks in a line in an empty classroom. Up close of one with books in it.
Gov. Phil Scott has asked the State Board of Education to begin the selection process for a new education secretary and laid out his ideal qualities for education secretary candidates in a letter to the state board.

Gov. Phil Scott said in a letter to the State Board of Education that experience with the public school system should "not necessarily" be a requirement for Vermont’s next secretary of education.

Last week, Scott announced the unexpected departure of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. On Monday, the governor asked the State Board of Education to begin the selection process for Holcombe's replacement.

In a letter to the state board, Scott said he wants candidates who are prepared to reduce school expenditures and do away with "outdated overhead costs."


Scott also wrote that the board should prioritize candidates who "have experience managing complex issues," even if they don’t have experience in the education sector.

Board chair Krista Huling isn’t so sure about that.

“When we’re looking for somebody to be the secretary of education, they should have some sort of education experience,” Huling says.

As Huling notes, state law actually requires that the secretary of education shall, at the time of his or her appointment, have “experience in education management and policy.”

Bristol Rep. David Sharpe chairs the House Education Committee. He says there’s good reason lawmakers included the provision.

Sharpe says high-level management experience is important, of course. But so too he says is an intimate grasp of the issues that are unique to education.

“Without both of those it’s very difficult to move the agency forward in a way that helps Vermont’s kids,” Sharpe says.

More from VPR — Holcombe's Resignation Raises Questions About Act 46 Process [March 28]

If board members have construed the letter to mean the next education secretary needn’t have any education experience at all, then Scott says they’ve misinterpreted the substance of his message.

“I don’t think that was quite the message that I intended to send. Certainly they should have some knowledge of education,” Scott says.

But Scott says depth of knowledge in the education sector isn’t necessarily as important as leadership skills, or management style.

“I would challenge you to find me a secretary of transportation over the last 30 or 40 years that was either a civil engineer or a contractor,” Scott says.

Scott says he’s looking for an education secretary who shares his desire to reduce expenditures on the K-12 public school system. 

The board will forward Scott a list of names to consider for the secretary position. Scott will make the final decision on whom to appoint.

Update 3:22 p.m. 4/3/2018 This post was updated to include comments from Huling, Sharpe and Scott.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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