Rendell's education secretary resigns Francis V. Barnes had been quiet about the governor's property-tax relief plan. Both say it was not a deciding factor.

Posted: June 14, 2005

HARRISBURG — Francis V. Barnes, the state education secretary who would not publicly support Gov. Rendell's ill-fated school-funding plan, announced his resignation yesterday after eight months on the job.

The announcement, which came two weeks after most school districts refused to take part in Act 72, had many wondering whether his departure was influenced by his lack of support for the plan to funnel slot-machine revenue to participating school districts.

"I knew he'd been a superintendent and had misgivings about Act 72," Rendell said last night. "I was not going to require him to speak out for something that he had misgivings about."

Both said the resignation had nothing to do with Act 72.

Barnes, who enjoyed almost universal support among educators when in September he became the state's first African American education secretary, said he was leaving because his commute from his Bucks County home to Harrisburg had kept him away from his family too much.

Barnes, 56, said he would return to his former job as superintendent of the Palisades School District in Bucks County after his resignation becomes effective the first week of September.

Barnes, whose background as a school superintendent would have given his opinion more sway with local education leaders, stayed silent while Rendell and others crisscrossed the state in support of Act 72. In fact, before many districts had even voted on the plan, Barnes had applied for his old superintendent job at Palisades, the district's acting superintendent Marilyn Miller said yesterday.

"His silence spoke volumes," said Josh Wilson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

When asked yesterday about his views on Act 72, Barnes said he was an educator and that it had to do with school funding.

"I have no opinion on Act 72," he said. "Act 72 was a law focused on property-tax relief, and I see myself as an education secretary."

The state act required school districts, except Philadelphia's, to decide by May 30 whether they would accept money from the state's recently legalized slot machines. In return, the districts had to raise the district's earned income tax and agree not to raise property taxes beyond the rate of inflation without voter approval.

Many lawmakers suspected that Rendell, who is up for reelection next year, was disappointed in Barnes for failing to push harder for the act, an idea he seemed to support at one time.

Rep. Jess Stairs (R., Fayette), chairman of the House Education Committee, said that he supported Barnes and his effort to bridge the partisan divide in Harrisburg.

Stairs said Barnes' reluctance to advocate Act 72 had to be a problem for him.

"He sat on the sidelines," Stairs said. "You can't be on the governor's team and not be be out there being a cheerleader."

But Rendell said he did not ask for Barnes' resignation and denied that their disagreement over Act 72 had anything to do with Barnes' departure.

"It certainly was not a factor to me," Rendell said last night.

Barnes agreed.

"I can say with absolute certainty that the governor and I had a great relationship," Barnes said. "There has been no pressure from the governor. You realize I've been commuting for a year and a half and that wears thin on my wife and family. I'm a family man."

Rendell has not chosen a successor but named deputy secretary Gerald Zahorchak as acting secretary of education.

For Rendell, who campaigned on a platform of overhauling education, the departure of his second education secretary in less than a year comes as a significant blow. Barnes' predecessor, Vicki Phillips, resigned in 2004 to run the Portland, Ore., school district.

Rendell considered the persuasive Barnes a much-needed weapon in his fight to persuade the Republican controlled legislature to increase the state's share of education spending.

Rendell had spent his first year in Harrisburg in a slugfest with the General Assembly over school spending, which delayed the state budget for six months and forced the state to miss two school-funding payments to districts.

At the time, Republicans expressed disdain for Phillips, who was viewed as the vanguard of Rendell's education policy. Barnes was seen as one who could mend the rift with the legislature.

Yesterday, Rendell focused on what they have accomplished.

"We have been fortunate to have two secretaries running our education department who are dedicated to public education and the schoolchildren who benefit from that education," Rendell said. "Both have chosen to return to those children to impact their lives and education directly, but their impact on education policy and public schools across Pennsylvania will be felt for years to come."

Barnes listed several accomplishments he was proud of from his tenure as leader of the state education department.

The governor's budget includes spending $4.7 million to expand a program in which high school students take college courses, and $5 million for high school reform, a topic high on the agenda of the nation's governors as many high schools across the country are being criticized for failing to prepare students for education or work after graduation.

Barnes will leave behind a department that is facing daunting challenges, including the failure of Act 72. Starting with this year's test results, which haven't been released, schools and districts will have to meet a higher bar in order to meet "adequate yearly progress" under the law, and they will have to increase enforcement under No Child Left Behind as it enters a new phase.

"I take satisfaction knowing we are leaving the wood pile higher than we found it," Barnes said.

Staff writers Dale Mezzacappa, Kellie Patrick and Amy Worden contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer John Sullivan at 717-787-5934 or johnsullivan@phillynews.com.

Francis V. Barnes

Age: 56

Education: B.S., education, Slippery Rock University (1971); Masters in Education (1983) and Ph.D. (1986), University of Pittsburgh.

Experience: Dean of students, department chairman and teacher, Allegheny Middle School, Pittsburgh (1971-1987); senior high school principal and assistant high school principal, North Allegheny School District (1987-1991); superintendent, Hopewell Area School District (1991-1994); superintendent, Huntingdon Area School District (1994-1998); superintendent, Palisades School District, Kintnersville, (1998-2004); Education secretary, State of Pennsylvania (2004-2005).

Family: Wife, Patty; two adult children.

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