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
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
"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
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
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,