Domino Effect

Board of Education chairman T. Willard Fair announced his resignation just one day after Florida education commissioner Eric Smith quit.

Smith was hired to the State Board of Education in 2007, a time when Florida schools ranked 31st on the Quality Counts report by “Education Week.” As he leaves the board of education, Florida schools ranked fifth in the annual report.

“It has been a privilege to serve as commissioner during the period in which Florida demonstrated bold national leadership in the field of education,” writes Smith in a statement regarding his resignation effective June 30. “The time has come, however, to allow our newly elected governor to have input through the State Board of Education on the type of leader to pursue his goals for education.”

While Smith was commissioner, the reading skills of fourth and eighth graders improved significantly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. There were noticeable gains by African-American and Hispanic students.

“On Friday, Commissioner Eric Smith informed my administration of his plan to leave the Department of Education,” read a statement released by Scott on March 21. “On behalf of the state of Florida, I thank him for his years of dedicated service.”

The following day, Scott released another statement that outlined some of the changes being made to the school system, including a $1.75 billion cut to K-12 education.

“Smith was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 and has been a supporter of efforts by the Florida Legislature to reform how teachers are paid by connecting salaries to test scores and eliminating multi-year contracts,” Scott stated.

On the same day of Scott’s second press release, Fair resigned from his position as education chairman.However, Fair does not agree with the Smith’s resignation. As a result, Fair has also left the Department of Education, where he was awaiting the governor to appoint a new chairman.

“I am dismayed by the process that has unfolded, regarding Commissioner Smith,” reads part of Fair’s letter in response to Smith’s resignation. “In fact, the notion that this Board should immediately commence a ‘national search’ for a new Commissioner, flies in the face of the reality that Governor Scott will choose his new Commissioner,” said Fair.

“This Board, including its new members, will merely provide the votes that affirm the Governor’s choice,” said Fair of the alleged politics surrounding Smith’s resignation.