Senate OKs education secretary, 19-2

DOVER — Delaware’s Senate met Wednesday for a special session, confirming the nominations of two cabinet secretaries and several judges.

Steven Godowsky, nominated by Gov. Jack Markell to be Delaware’s new secretary of education, answers questions from the Senate’s executive committee Wednesday afternoon inside Legislative Hall. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Steven Godowsky, nominated by Gov. Jack Markell to be Delaware’s new secretary of education, answers questions from the Senate’s executive committee Wednesday afternoon inside Legislative Hall. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Dr. Steven Godowsky, former superintendent of New Castle County Vo-Tech District, was confirmed as secretary of education by a 19-2 vote. Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, and Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, were the lone holdouts.

Dr. Godowsky replaces Mark Murphy, who stepped down last month.

The Senate also confirmed new Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Jim Mosley. Mr. Mosley, the former Wilmington Public Safety director, replaces Lew Schiliro, who announced last week he is retiring after nearly seven years in the position.

Several judges were confirmed or re-appointed, including Tamika Montgomery-Reeves. A lawyer nominated by the governor to replace a retiring member of the Court of Chancery, Ms. Montgomery-Reeves made history as the second woman and first African-American to serve on the Court of Chancery.

But it was the nominee for education secretary who triggered the most intense questions and comments from the senators.

While former Secretary Murphy, who had held the position for about three years, officially left “to pursue other opportunities,” he had been facing mounting criticism from inside and outside Legislative Hall.

Legislators had passed a bill allowing parents to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced assessment and introduced a bill that would raise the bar for the qualifications needed to become secretary of education. Mr. Murphy also had received a vote of no confidence from the Delaware State Education Association — the teachers’ union — earlier this year.

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, welcomed Steven Godowsky to the Senate chamber for the hearing by praising his leadership skills. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, welcomed Steven Godowsky to the Senate chamber for the hearing by praising his leadership skills. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Questions for Dr. Godowsky from the Senate Executive Committee focused on communication between the Department of Education and outsiders. Several senators implied or outright stated there had been little connection between the agency and lawmakers.

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, called the department a “rudderless ship” under Mr. Murphy, and Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, asked how the nominee would mend fences between the Department of Education and key outside educational groups like the DSEA.

Dr. Godowsky in response described himself as a thinker who hoped to bridge gaps.

“I really think I’m a principal at heart and that means rolling up your sleeves and engaging with others,” he said, noting he is not necessarily a “think-tank person.”

Mr. Murphy, who had worked as a teacher and principal, also spent time with outside education organizations.

Several lawmakers asked how Dr. Godowsky aimed to deal with struggling charter schools. He noted the General Assembly has added more oversight powers in recent years, and he emphasized officials are concerned about students.

In response to a question about testing, one of the hot-button issues of the 2015 legislative session, Dr. Godowsky acknowledged some tests were unnecessary and pointed to a study being done to identify and eliminate redundant or harmful assessments. He did not directly comment on the opt-out bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Jack Markell in the summer, although Dr. Godowsky did defend testing as yielding valuable information for educators.

The former superintendent admitted the department “may have gotten off track.”

Senate Minority Whip Gregory F. Lavelle, left, (R-Sharpley) and Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson (R-Milford) were two members of the Senate Executive Committee, listen to the comments of Steven Godowsky. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Senate Minority Whip Gregory F. Lavelle, left, (R-Sharpley) and Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson (R-Milford) were two members of the Senate Executive Committee, listen to the comments of Steven Godowsky. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

In a statement issued after the vote, Gov. Markell thanked the Senate for confirming Dr. Godowsky while noting “there is still more work to be done.”

Sen. Bonini was the only “no” vote.

He said afterward he voted against Dr. Godowsky because he expects he will not provide any changes and against Mr. Mosley because he did not see any improvement in crime rates while Mr. Mosley was with city public safety.

Several senators inquired as to how Mr. Mosley intended to combat the violent crime problem in Wilmington and what he sees as the state’s biggest safety issue.

Mr. Mosley said while terrorism remains a threat, he feels many issues are intertwined and pose problems for officials. He stressed his commitment to school safety and cybersecurity and pointed to his background with an anti-drug trafficking unit in Arizona.

“I have dedicated my entire life to law enforcement,” Mr. Mosley said.

While the governor’s cabinet now has two new members, it also lost a secretary. Jennifer Ranji, head of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families since 2013, was confirmed to the Family Court. Her predecessor as department secretary was appointed to a judgeship two years ago.

Regarding Ms. Montgomery-Reeves nomination to the Chancery Court, Sen.

A lawyer nominated by the governor to replace a retiring member of the Court of Chancery, Ms. Montgomery-Reeves made history as the second woman and first African-American to serve on the Court of Chancery. Sen. Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, said in a statement: “In many circles, Chancery Court is considered the Supreme Court of business law because its rulings are so widely cited and we all understand the court’s importance to Delaware’s competitive position in the global economy, Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves’ qualifications and experience make her a natural fit and I think she’ll do an outstanding job.”

Several other judges were confirmed or re-appointed as well. In total, nine individuals were approved by the Senate.

The Senate is expected to reconvene for another special meeting in the ensuing months before the chamber goes back into regular session in January.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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