If the rumor is true that Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson is under pressure from some corners to resign, the forces don't appear to be coming from the governor or the head of the state Board of Education Kathleen Shanahan.
“The Florida Board of Education selected Gerard Robinson after conducting a nationwide search for a commissioner who would bring a reform-based agenda, who is committed to raising Florida’s education standards and the expectations of our students, and I believe Commissioner Robinson is working to do those things,'' Gov. Rick Scott told the Herald/Times in a statement Friday.
Robinson was chastised this week for the department's handling of the FCAT writing scores and was in the line of fire Thursday as U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan and Florida Democrats lobbed criticism at Republican education policies.
Shanahan, head of the seven-member Board of Education which appoints the education secretary, told the Herald/Times Thursday that she was satisfied wtih Robinson's handling of the FCAT writing snafu earlier this week and has no intention of asking him to step down. "Gerard has the confidence of the chair," she said.
Meanwhile Friday, the department released preliminary results for reading scores and found that more 9th and 10th graders passed the test than last year.
Scott's Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara tangled with Robinson last fall over a $20 million contract dispute between the Department of Education and Infinity Software, a company represented by Southern Strategy and one of MacNamara's close friend's, Paul Bradshaw.
At the time, Robinson suggested that MacNamara had wanted to "have another party manage the contract" which had been awarded to Microsoft but was being disputed by Tallahassee-based Infinity.
"Having another party manage the Infinity contract and program implementation while remaining unaccountable to FDOE in a real sense only adds another layer of bureaucracy to an already politically-sensitive contractual environment," Robinson wrote to MacNamara in November.
MacNamara, who announced on Saturday that he will be resigning effective July 1, told the Associated Press that the idea to have the governor's office mediate the contract dispute was intended to get the software programming moving because the state was behind schedule and it was being paid by federal Race to the Top grant dollars.
MacNamara said he did not get involved in the negotiations but became involved in the issue becuase the governor provides "advice, counsel and leadership" to the education commissioner.
Emails obtained by the Herald-Times from October show that Robinson was also raising concerns about the delay in the contract and directed his inquiry to the governor's office.
"Where are we with the final decision? This is going on week 3 and we really need to get moving forward with our side of the project. Let me know something as soon as possible,'' Robinson wrote to MacNamara and his deputy, Carrie O'Rourke, in an Oct. 3 e-mail.
"The General Counsel is still working through both contracts,'' O'Rourke responded. "We are waiting for follow-up information from both sides so we can better understand how to resolve the issues. Both the FCAT Explorer 2.0 and Standard Tutorial contract negotiations are at a standstill between DOE and Infinity. We are working with both your staff and Infinity to try to move the negotiations forward as quickly as possible. Please call me if you would like to discuss."
Infinity eventually won the contract after challenging the initial bid award to Microsoft.