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Patrick planning to create education secretary post

Associated Press | 7/27/2009, 10:49 a.m.

Gov. Deval Patrick plans to file legislation this week to create a cabinet-level education secretary, as part of an effort to make education a top issue for 2008.

The governor’s bill also would grant him greater control of education boards by expanding the number of seats on the panels, allowing Patrick to add more supporters to advance his agenda, according to three people familiar with the plan.

Patrick, who has advocated for lengthening the school day and providing two years of free community college education, plans to provide details of his education governance bill in a speech this week.

The Associated Press first reported the story Monday, citing sources that spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the governor hadn’t publicly released the plan.

The governor, who has publicly expressed frustration with his inability to gain more control over state boards, last year appointed a large task force called the “Readiness Project” to recommend ways to implement his agenda. The panel’s recommendations are due in late winter.

Patrick’s top education adviser, Dana Mohler-Faria, would be a likely choice for secretary. Mohler-Faria, who is president of Bridgewater State College, has volunteered over the past year helping Patrick shape his education goals, often serving as an official representative of the administration.

Mohler-Faria, who was by Patrick’s side along with his cabinet secretaries at a year-end news conference, already has a temporary staff within the state Board of Higher Education. One of the sources said it’s likely that the bill will formalize Mohler-Faria’s role, rather than establish a new bureaucracy.

The scope of the secretary’s responsibilities was not immediately known.

Currently, education leadership is split among three agencies, each with its own board of directors: the Department of Early Education and Care, which handles children before kindergarten; the Department of Education, which handles students through grade 12; and the Board of Higher Education, which oversees the 29 college campuses.

In June, the Patrick administration testified in support of expanding the nine-member Board of Education, which oversees kindergarten through high school, setting policies on MCAS testing and charter schools.

At that time, Patrick said he was open to the idea of adding seats to the 11-member Board of Higher Education, which oversees the University of Massachusetts system, nine state colleges and 15 community colleges with a combined budget of $1 billion.

Christopher Anderson, a Romney appointee to the Board of Education, said he’s skeptical of Patrick’s plans.

“Absent any clear and substantive challenge that is being presented by the size of this board I don’t see any justification at this point in time for adding to its size,” he said Monday.

Anderson, who was bumped out of the chairman’s seat in August by Patrick appointee Paul Reville, raised concern about giving a would-be secretary too much power.

“The clear line of responsibility has to be articulated,” he said. “Ultimately we have already a capacity to coordinate early childhood education, K-through-12, and higher education. That could be enhanced but I’m not quite sure you need to change the underlying statutory authority among any of these three boards to a single individual who now is completely politically appointed.”

Patrick has been lobbying legislative leaders about his education governance plans for several weeks.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney discussed the idea of creating an education secretariat, but the proposal faltered because lawmakers considered it focused on removing then-University of Massachusetts President William Bulger, a former state senator with whom Romney clashed.

(Associated Press)