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Bennett looking for job(s?) in Florida

As expected, state Superintendent Tony Bennett has applied for the top school job in Florida, a post that has seen considerable turnover.

The interim commissioner, Pam Stewart, did not apply for the job. She's held the job since August, when former Virginia education secretary Gerard Robinson resigned after just a year. Robinson said his wife, a law professor, was unable to find a similar job in Tallahassee.

Bennett's wife, Tina, also has a notable employment history. She was hired by the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association just weeks after Tony Bennett took office, resigning two years later, after questions were raised over the clear conflict of interest with her spouse's position.

Tina Bennett then joined the Marian University staff, where she was involved with oversight of the Teach for America program. Marian University President Daniel Elsener is a member of the Indiana State Board of Education.

Teach for America, interestingly, notes the attractive environment the Indiana Department of Education created in Indianapolis.

"At the state level, in 2011, the Indiana Department of Education passed the boldest education legislation in the country—eliminating seniority as the only driver of teacher layoff decisions, creating a new teacher evaluation system, and granting principals greater autonomy over schools," according to its website.

Tina Bennett left Marian University before Bennett's re-election campaign, joining the Ivy Tech Community College marketing and communications office in May. She is director of outreach projects there, at a salary of $85,000 a year.

She is currently "on loan to Conexus with our partnership with Conexus in the development of the recent HIRE program," according to Jeff Fanter, Ivy Tech's vice president for communications/marketing.

Here's some background on the HIRE program from an Ivy Tech/Conexus presentation in October to – what else? – the Indiana State Board of Education.

In spite of all the interesting opportunities Tina Bennett has enjoyed since leaving Clark County, her husband lamented the sacrifices his wife had made when he addressed the Celebrating Catholic School Values dinner a year ago.

"(My wife) is what I referred to many times as the true casualty of war of our last year," he said, " I want to share this with you just to give an idea of what we had to engage in to get vouchers for our children. My wife, as I said, she was principal at Clarksville High School … today she can't get a job in Indiana's public schools because of what we believe is right for Indiana's schoolchildren. And every day she gets up and says, 'We're going to keep fighting the fight. We're going to keep doing what's right for kids because that's what we got into this business for.'"

The Florida education commissioner is appointed by the state board of education and earns $275,000 a year – a considerable boost from Bennett's current salary of $79,400.

If Tina Bennett is still interested in returning to a public school classroom, however, she'll be in line for a pay cut. The average teacher salary there in 2010 was $46,708 – nearly the lowest in the nation.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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