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 Article of Interest - Education

Watkins wants Granholm to revamp education department
by Dee-Ann Durbin, The Associated Press, November 15, 2002

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Over the last 12 years, Republican Gov. John Engler has dismantled the state Department of Education in the name of efficiency, spreading its functions over four different departments and cutting 86 percent of its staff.

State Superintendent Tom Watkins, a Democrat who has an icy relationship with Engler, said the changes have hurt the state's ability to craft education policy. Watkins is now pinning his hopes for a revamped department on Gov.-elect Jennifer Granholm, a fellow Democrat.

"It's not about bringing everything back to the Department of Education," Watkins said Friday. "This is a new opportunity. There needs to be better connecting of these dots in order to serve our children, families and communities."

In an editorial published Friday in The Detroit News, Watkins encourages Granholm to "align education policy" once she takes office in January.

Watkins also has commissioned a report from the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council to recommend the best ways to structure the department. The report, paid for with a grant of around $50,000 from the Flint-based Mott Foundation, is scheduled to be released in early December.

So far, Granholm has made one promise to the Department of Education. She plans to place the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests back under the department's control.

Engler moved the MEAP program to the Department of Treasury in 1999, saying the treasury department should be in charge of the MEAP because it distributes MEAP-based Merit Award scholarships.

Granholm has made no other decisions regarding the Department of Education, spokesman Chris De Witt said. But she plans to meet with Watkins soon to discuss her options.

"She certainly believes that the Department of Education should have an expanded role in dealing with its core issue, which is the education of our children," De Witt said.

Frustrated by what he considered an ineffective bureaucracy, Engler completely reshaped the Department of Education through a series of executive orders. The department had 2,000 employees in 1990; it now has 280.

In 2000, Engler moved responsibility for adult education and the G.E.D. program to the Department of Career Development and created the Center for Education Performance and Information, which collects school data. This year, he created the Commission on Asia in the Schools and placed it in the new Department of History, Arts and Libraries.

Watkins said the reshuffling has caused confusion about responsibilities and has added work for schools, who now have to respond to demands from different departments.

He pointed to the case of the Ravendale Alternative Education Center in Detroit, which was shut down this fall because it was being run illegally by the Macomb County school district. The school said it had the Department of Career Development's permission to operate, Watkins said, even though state law only allows the Department of Education to make that decision.

Engler spokeswoman Susan Shafer defended the governor's actions.

"The governor has the ability to move programs and agencies where he thinks they're going to be most effective," she said. "All of these changes that the governor has made were very purposeful, in order to make sure that these programs are run well."

Watkins said Granholm will have the same chance to reshape the department. But this time, he's confident the two will see eye-to-eye on many issues.

"We both speak about lifting up schools and teachers, and agree that there's too much bashing of our public schools," he said.

Watkins is one of two state department heads not selected by Engler. The superintendent is selected by the State Board of Education, while the state Natural Resources Commission selects the head of the Department of Natural Resources.

Watkins said he hopes the report from the Citizens Research Council, which specializes in governmental restructuring, will guide those decisions.

Citizens Research Council President Earl Ryan said the group has been working on the report since August. It has identified education functions and determined which departments have historically claimed them. It also is talking to leaders in other states to get ideas about organization.

On the Net:

Michigan Department of Education, http://www.michigan.gov/mde

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