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State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has talked about retiring the past few years. But his departure became a reality in May, when the State Board of Education launched its search for his replacement.

Judging from initial names board members are considering, the next superintendent could be much more politically motivated and divisive than Flanagan, who has walked a careful line between the various education interest groups.

Sources close to the search say potential candidates include the current executive director of the Michigan Education Association — the state’s largest teachers union.

Cementing labor’s influence over the direction of education in Michigan would be a wrong turn. The state is just now gaining momentum in offering families more school choice and holding schools to a higher performance standard.

It’s time for Flanagan to step down, which he has admitted. With 10 years on the job, Flanagan is one of the longest-serving school chiefs in the country. The average span for state superintendents is less than four years.

Many state education observers credit Flanagan with having the best interests of Michigan’s children in mind. He deserves that praise.

In recent years, however, Flanagan has found himself in an awkward position — balancing the interests of a Republican governor and Legislature and the very left-leaning, union-friendly State Board that hired him.

But the board would err if it chose a strident leader. Flanagan’s long career as a local and regional superintendent prepped him for his work leading state education. The candidate who replaces him should have a similar resume with management experience, as well as the ability to place ideological differences aside to do what’s best for kids.

According to the State Board’s time-line, members want the next superintendent hired by March 2015. Flanagan officially steps down in June. This summer, the board put out a few press releases requesting public input in their search, but it doesn’t seem to have generated much interest. It even created a Facebook page.

At its next meeting, the board plans to choose a search firm to help it pull together a list of qualified candidates. Yet that hasn’t prevented some members from getting started.

So who is the board considering?

■ MEA Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz, who has spent much of her career with the union. Prior to this position, she supervised all MEA field operations. She replaced Lu Bataglieri, whom the State Board briefly considered as a replacement to Flanagan in 2010 when he was battling a serious illness.

■Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland Schools, the county’s intermediate school district. She has reportedly been actively campaigning for the job. And even though she has an impressive resume, Markavitch is no friend to charter schools or school choice in general.

■Current board member Dan Varner’s name is also on the list. The CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit is vested in his work in Detroit and isn’t likely to seriously consider the job.

■One of the better candidates is Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. He oversaw the recent merger of Ypsilanti Public Schools and Willow Run Community Schools. In addition to his experience running school districts, he had a stint as executive director of South Central Michigan Works.

If the board, composed largely of Democrats, chooses a union chief like Dziadosz or an anti-choice candidate like Markavitch, it will drive a further wedge between the Legislature and the Michigan Department of Education. Either of these leaders would likely try to unravel or hamper much of the school choice expansion.

Michigan has a long way to go to catch up with some of the leading education states. The next superintendent should focus on that work and doing the right thing for the state’s children.

Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.

ijacques@detroitnews.com

@Ingrid_Jacques

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