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Beaming live: Bennett's boondoggle

Tony Bennett's former communications director, Cam Savage, writes in the April 5 edition of Nuvo of the importance of symbolism in education reform. He's miffed about the $100,000 Bennett's successor spent renovating the state superintendent's office.

"I'm disturbed because of the message it sent to teachers, parents and students," Savage writes, going on to accuse elected Democrats of being "in the pocket of the teachers' unions."

Renovations made at the Department of Education by Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz actually totaled $86,000. As Savage suggests, however, it's the symbolism that matters, which is why his real outrage should be for the $1.7 million his former employer spent on high-tech video-conferencing equipment – some of which doesn't even work with the department's telecommunications system. Matt Tully of the Indianapolis Star writes that the costly investment was made "without public attention during a period of intense budget tightening in Indiana schools, and in an era of deep concern about government spending."

Bennett's purchase cost nearly 20 times the cost of renovations at the DOE.

How's this for symbolism? The $1.7 million purchase was made from CISCO Systems, which at the time employed Todd Huston, Bennett's former chief of staff. Huston has since been elected to the Indiana House, where he's continued to inflict damaging policy on Indiana public schools as a member of the education committee. He also is chairman of the Indiana Charter School Board, the panel established to ramp up the number of public charter schools. Its latest move was to authorize an Arizona businessman to open a charter school in Fort Wayne, with no evidence of support or interest in the community outside of a lease arrangement with its own interesting ties to a high-ranking state-level Republican official.

Huston was an Education Consultant and Strategic Business Development Manager for CISCO when his former boss and frequent traveling companion bought $1.7 million worth of equipment from his employer.

Huston told Tully he did not receive a commission for the sale. He even managed to level a partisan swipe at Ritz, suggesting members of her administration don't understand their job.

Apparently not, if the job is to perpetuate political cronyism.

And as Savage writes, "These are the facts and they are not disputed."

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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