Will the last person at the DOE please turn out the lights?
By Chris Hamilton; 9/16/00
Does anyone remember a famous billboard erected in Seattle toward the end of a recent recession? Referring to a mass exodus brought on by a high regional unemployment rate, the sign read, "Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?" We might need to put a similar one up by 101 Pleasant Street in Concord. Numerous recent resignations and retirements at the DOE that affect homeschoolers include:
- Rachel Hopkins, Administrator for School Approval, covering non-public school approval and home education, resigned effective 7/12/00. She took a position as Curriculum Director for SAU 4 (Newfound District), with a nice pay increase. Rachel was the person at DOE who fielded the difficult questions about homeschooling, and was the only DOE appointee to the Home Education Advisory Council (HEAC). Many of her home education duties are now taken over by Angie LeBel, her assistant. Because the Bureau of School Approval now has no administrator, the next higher level management, Joanne Baker, Director of the Division of Instructional Services, is acting as Administrator for the bureau. Despite a hiring freeze in state government, a waiver has been granted to hire a replacement for Rachel, although the duties of the new position are slightly different than the ones Rachel had. The job opening has been posted internally in the DOE as of 9/11/00, and if no one at the DOE is named to the position, the job will be posted to the public.
- Elizabeth Twomey, Commissioner of Education, is resigning effective 10/30/00 for health reasons. At that time, the current Deputy Commissioner, Nicholas C. Donohue will become interim Commissioner. The State Board of Education will begin its search for a new commissioner next year. Although Ms. Twomey will remain at the DOE in an advisory capacity for several months, whoever replaces her will set the tone for the entire DOE, including its stance on home education issues.
- The former secretary for School Approval (name unknown) resigned in April. After an extensive job search, her replacement resigned in May, just as the hiring freeze was announced. Her work is being split between Mr. Gephardt, Angie LeBel, and 10% of a consultant "on loan" from another bureau.
- Debra Grabil, Director of the Bureau for Special Education resigned effective 9/14/00. She was the person to whom questions about home education and special education were directed. Joanne Baker, the next higher level of management (is this name familiar?) is now acting Director of Special Education.
- Pat Busselle, an administrator in the Legislation and Hearings Office is retiring effective 12/15/00. Among Ms. Busselleís duties was compiling a list of bills before the legislature that affected education. HEAC would frequently refer to that list in identifying and tracking bills that would affect homeschoolers. Her secretary will probably take over that task. Ms. Busselle was also the person Angie LeBel and Rachel Hopkins would go to for answers about education law in general, and they would sometimes refer homeschoolers to her directly.
- Carol Kilmister, Information Officer in the Human Resources Division resigned in July. She was responsible for the work on the DOE web site. The Director of Human Resources and a Technical Support Specialist in the Office of Technical Management are now handling her work. After Ms. Kilmister resigned, Pat Busselleís secretary helped Angie redesign the home education portion of the DOE web site to make it more useful to homeschoolers.
The state has had a hiring freeze since 5/9/00, and a goal of reducing existing department expenditures by 3% during the next fiscal year. To even hire a replacement for a vacant position requires a waiver from the governor's office. Given the current chaotic conditions at the DOE brought on by a chronic shortage of resources and personnel turnover, IMHO it will be difficult to attract outside applicants.
Angie LeBel is now doing as much of the work of three people as she can, and needless to say, she is swamped. All non-essential duties have been curtailed, but she is still spending long hours trying to make sure the important work gets done. DOE personnel she relied on to get answers to unusual questions have left or are leaving soon. Co-workers who might have pitched in to help her are themselves already doing more than one personís job.
At the last HEAC meeting, Angie indicated that on a personal level, she simply cannot continue very long the way things are. HEAC is looking into ways to lighten her home education load, and David Gephardt has offered some help. With all the new responsibilities she has, she has put in for a job upgrade, but did not get approval from all parties.
As helpful as it has been to homeschoolers, the DOE primarily serves the SAUs. The DOE is the organization to which superintendents go when they have questions about the laws. To date, the answers provided by DOE, more often than not, informed the superintendents that homeschoolers have more rights and fewer obligations than the superintendents thought. Though often invisible to homeschoolers, this type of communication is important to a good relationship between homeschoolers and administrators.
Homeschoolers should realize that if Angie leaves the DOE anytime soon, there will be no one there who can knowledgeably answer questions about homeschooling. Someone will answer the phone, but that person won't have a clue how to answer the questions. When Rachelís replacement is hired, the DOE would have to start over from scratch understanding the home education law and community.
We are at risk of losing a significant component of our home education environment in NH: a helpful, knowledgeable and sympathetic DOE.
I believe that losing Angie would be a big loss to the home education community. There are things home educators can do to lighten her load:
- We can spread the word in the homeschooling community that home education resources at DOE are at a critical low.
- We can be patient when the DOE is slow in responding to our requests.
- We can stop referring newcomers to the DOE for routine questions about homeschooling, and instead refer them to other homeschoolers.
- We can urge homeschoolers to use the DOE as a participating agency only as a last resort, which was the original intent of the law.
- We can stop asking for packets to hand out at homeschooling information events. DOE is happy to provide "clean" originals that we ourselves can photocopy for distribution.
- Finally, if and when the posting is opened to the public, we can help in the job search for Rachel's replacement, by steering people we think would be appropriate for the job in that direction.