Scott defends education secretary nominee amid criticism



(The Center Square) – Vermont Gov. Phil Scott is defending his pick for education secretary amid criticism from Democrats over her Florida charter and for-profit school background.

Scott nominated Zoie Saunders last week to head the Vermont Agency of Education. Saunders, who most recently worked for Broward County schools in Florida, was tapped to replace Dan French, who stepped down from the job last year.

Shortly after her nomination the Vermont Progressive Party posted a blistering attack on her background in for-profit charter schools, which the party said raises “serious doubts about her suitability for the role.”

“Not only does she lack the requisite experience in public education, but her track record demonstrates a propensity for policies that undermine rather than strengthen public schools,” the party said in the blog post.

Vermont Democratic Party chairman David Glidden said he has “grave concerns” about Saunders’ background at a charter school company in Florida, which he said “leads the country in gutting their public schools to enrich private businesses.”

Scott, a Republican, said he is “disappointed” by the criticism and raised concerns that some legislators are “believing misinformation, making assumptions and levying attacks on her character” as the Senate prepares to consider her nomination.

“Disturbingly, all these false accusations and judgments appear to be based on the state she currently lives in, and a cherry-picked part of her resume that’s been turned into a boogeyman with no attempts to understand her work or the value her experience could bring for Vermont kids and schools,” he said in a statement.

Scott said the disparaging remarks send a “terrible message” for a state that “prides itself on being open-minded, accepting, warm, friendly and welcoming” and at a time when Vermont is struggling to recruit more people to fill vacancies in state government and attract younger families.

“Frankly, I’m embarrassed by the message it sends, that a smart, extremely capable professional woman, who has dedicated her career to improving outcomes for kids and addressing inequity for impoverished communities and families, is being villainized simply because of the state she currently lives in,” he said.

The secretary’s job pays $168,000 a year with benefits and oversees about 150 employees at the Agency of Education, according to a job posting for the position.

Scott nominated Saunders from a short list of candidates vetted by the state Board of Education over the past year. He said when the public has an opportunity to learn more about Saunders “they will see that she is someone who cares deeply about improving outcomes for students – and has a track record of doing just that.”

He said the new hire, if confirmed by the Senate, will help the state “address our significant cost challenges in a way that best serves kids, teachers, schools, employers and taxpayers.”

“This is exactly what we need right now, and I look forward to working with her to make Vermont the best cradle to career education system in the country while ensuring Vermonters can sustain this critical investment,” Scott said.

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