A bitter, emotional and defiant Tony Bennett took to the podium at the Florida Department of Education today and resigned as Education Commissioner of Florida saying that “when education becomes about the adults, it’s time for the adult to get out.”
Fair enough. Too bad more ed reformers, like say, Michelle Rhee, don’t leave when they become the story.
Bennett insisted that the decision to leave was his and that both governor Rick Scott and former governor Jeb Bush encouraged him to stay amid the allegations he fixed grades for the charter school of a financial donor. Bennett called the story “malicious and unfounded,” in his opening remarks, but failed to adequately clarify when probed by reporters only saying that there was a pattern and politically motivated. He did not field particular questions about specific emails but said that he would be making a request to the Indiana inspector general for a full investigation.
He indicated that two top aides, Will Krebs and Dale Chu – both part of the email chain and decision-making in the grade change, were not resigning. Bennett did say, however, that the decision to retain them would be up to Florida.
Tallahassee Democrat reporter Travis Pillow asked a poignant question with respect to his role as fiscal agent for the PARCC testing alliance. Bennett had his head down as Pillow was asking but raised his eyebrows at the inquiry. He assumed that the next commissioner – he recommended former interim commissioner Pam Stewart – would take on the role.
Bennett apparently decided to resign sometime last night. His carefully crafted reasoning – nothing can distract from what Florida’s children are doing – Bennett’s quick surrender is out of character. Moreover, if the story that has evolved out of his emails is indeed “unfounded, malicious and politically motivated,” he would have been vindicated in soon order. Especially with the powerful education reform industry ready to go to the mat for him.
The emails provided a paper trail which Bennett knew he couldn’t run from. He and his supporters have attempted to spin that someone “leaked’ the emails, but emails from government agencies are only released after a FOIA request which was done by Associated Press investigative reporter Tom LoBianco. While the reporter could have been tipped off by a member of the new IDOE, Bennett was being counseled by his staff that the grade changes may not be legal. The staffer tasked with making the final changes that Bennett pushed for, Jon Gubera, resigned soon afterwards. What’s likeliest is that whomever tipped off LoBianco was more whistleblower than anything else.
Bennett probably knows that more will be coming out and couldn’t tell Scott and Bush the entire story last night. Remaining would embarrass them and quite a bit of damage has been done already. Today was his last day in the sun he used the opportunity to beat his own drum with sanctimony.