Armando Vilaseca, right, speaks along with Gov. Peter Shumlin during a news conference on Thursday.
MONTPELIER — Last year, Gov. Peter Shumlin won legislation to endow his office with increased power over public education. On Thursday, he announced the appointment of the man he says will help him exert it.
Armando Vilaseca has been appointed to serve as Vermont’s first-ever secretary of education, a Cabinet-level post whose allegiance to the governor will lend the executive branch unprecedented influence over education policy in the state.
Until now, the commissioner of education has answered to the nine-member State Board of Education, a century-old arrangement conceived to help insulate public education from the ideological bent of politicians.
Shumlin, though, convinced lawmakers last year that the system had prevented the state’s top elected officeholder from enacting needed reforms in one of government’s central roles.
Vilaseca has served as commissioner of education for the last four years and was among the three candidates nominated for the secretary post by the State Board of Education.
“(The governor and I) have almost identical views on education and the direction we should be moving in, so I think that I’m the perfect choice for the position,” Vilaseca said during a news conference announcing the appointment.
In Vilaseca, Shumlin said he’s found a steady hand to lead the transition.
“I was lucky to have three strong candidates for the secretary’s post, but with my expansive education agenda, making a change in leadership right now does not make sense and I have confidence Armando is the right person to be sure we don’t miss a beat in the coming months,” Shumlin said.
Asked during a news conference what exactly his “expansive” agenda contains, Shumlin said he wanted to save details for his State of the State address next week.
“Stay tuned,” he said.
Vilaseca’s tenure won’t last long. Shumlin said he’ll begin the search for a replacement as soon as this spring. The governor said the timeline is optimal both for the administration, which wanted a smooth transition to the new structural framework prior to bringing in “new blood,” and for Vilaseca, who had signaled a desire to leave government service after five years.
Vilaseca headlined a slew of executive-branch job announcements Thursday, including the appointment of former House Majority Leader Lucy Leriche to serve as deputy secretary of commerce and community development.
Leriche is currently working under contract for Green Mountain Power.
Shumlin said more changes are in store for the Agency of Commerce. Under former Gov. James Douglas, the Department of Economic Development was folded into the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Lawmakers last year asked secretary of Commerce to determine whether the consolidation had been productive.
“We have come to the conclusion that it was not … and that the missions of the two areas, while similar, are not fully aligned and that the Department of Economic Development really deserves top cabinet-level efforts,” Lawrence Miller, Vermont’s secretary of Commerce, said.
The search for that position is under way.
Among the other executive staff changes:
Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter will return to her role as deputy secretary of transportation; her deputy, Dave Rapaport, will become the new Irene Recovery Czar.
Susan Allen, who in her first-term role as “special assistant to the governor” served as spokeswoman and communications chief, will take on the deputy chief of staff post being vacated by outgoing Alex MacLean. Allen, formerly editor of The Times Argus, will continue to handle public and press relations.
Former Lamoille County Sen. Susan Bartlett, who spent the first term as a special assistant to the governor, will take a new job in the Agency of Human resources, where she will coordinate a range of projects for the administration.
Former representative from Johnson, Floyd Nease — he served as House Majority Leader prior to Leriche — will serve as director of systems integration at the Agency of Human Services. Shumlin said Nease has been asked to streamline the delivery of services to vulnerable families.
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