By Gintautas Dumcius
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — Staking out ground ahead of his expected push to allow more charter schools in Massachusetts, Governor-elect Charlie Baker on Tuesday named a charter proponent and former Pioneer Institute official as state education secretary.
James Peyser, a 58-year-old Milton resident and former education adviser to past governors, has been leading Baker’s transition team while on leave from his job as managing director at the nonprofit NewSchools Venture Fund.
The transition team declined a News Service request for an interview with Peyser.
“I saw firsthand Jim’s experience and leadership improving public education throughout his career and during our time together on the state Board of Education,” Baker said in a statement. “I look forward to the innovation and devotion Jim will bring to our administration as we work to give our children and their parents a greater voice in their education.”
In 1995, Gov. William Weld appointed Peyser undersecretary of education and special assistant to the governor for charter schools. Peyser served as chair of the state board of education from 1999 to 2005.
David Driscoll worked as education commissioner while Peyser was chair of the board.
“Most people predicted that we’d have all these issues because he was perceived to be this conservative, anti-public schools, charter choice advocate,” Driscoll said Tuesday. “And I was, of course, a career superintendent and educator, teacher, etcetera, for 40 years. And the truth of the matter was we worked extremely well together.”
Driscoll said they put aside “philosophical differences,” and described Peyser as supportive of public schools and willing to close charter schools that didn’t “measure up.”
“I think in this day and age we worry too much about ideology and we should worry about just performance,” Driscoll told the News Service. “His record stands as a hallmark for when the public schools in Massachusetts leaped forward.”
Driscoll said he expected the Baker administration to push for an increase in the number of charter schools.
Baker was an ardent charter school supporter on the trail, and his campaign said he would work with lawmakers to increase the number of Bay State charter schools if elected.
Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni said the union remains committed to ensuring equitable funding for public education, “based wholly on democratic structures and democratic engagement, and free from market thinking, which underlines the campaign to privatize our schools.” The union during the fall spent heavily in an effort to boost Baker’s opponent, Democrat Martha Coakley.
“As in any democratic process, vigorous disagreement should be welcome in the debate over public education,” Madeloni said a statement. “Our goal is to make sure that Jim Peyser – and other education officials who are appointed to join the new administration – will respond to the views of educators, parents and communities concerning all policy decisions they make. We will continue to be strong advocates for providing our students with the public schools and colleges they deserve.”
Rep. Alice Peisch, the House chair of the Committee on Education, said in her “limited contact” with Peyser through her role on the committee she found him to be “very reasonable.”
“I look forward to working with the new administration. The secretary-designate has a long history of commitment to improving public education and I’m very hopeful that we will be able to work well together,” Peisch, a Wellesley Democrat, told the News Service.
Peisch tried unsuccessfully this year to broker a compromise with reluctant senators over an education reform bill that would have expanded charter school access in some districts. The bill cleared the House, but died in the Senate.
Asked what Baker’s selection of Peyser might signal for the charter school movement, Peisch said, “I would hesitate to read anything into it without giving the administration the opportunity to directly state what their priorities will be.”
Peyser was also an education adviser to Acting Gov. Jane Swift and Gov. Mitt Romney, and for seven years, he was the executive director of the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research.
Peyser will succeed Matthew Malone, a former Brockton schools superintendent who started as Gov. Deval Patrick’s education secretary in 2013.
“I hope that Mr. Peyser follows in Dr. Malone’s footsteps, recognizing that there’s a need to provide equal access to all students and that means not favoring the charter schools over the public schools,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union.
In a statement, Peyser said, “I am committed to advancing the Governor-elect’s ambitious priorities by producing more great schools throughout the Commonwealth, expanding and strengthening career-technical education programs, developing new partnerships with local school districts and communities, and making higher education more affordable and responsive to the needs of our diverse regions.”
Since the Nov. 4 election, Baker has been slowly filling out his cabinet, with public safety and transportation slots left unfilled as of Tuesday. Baker takes office on Jan. 8.
Matt Murphy contributed reporting.