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Shapiro taps superintendent to be education secretary

Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania speaks during his first Capitol news conference after the election, Nov. 16, 2022, in Harrisburg, Pa.
Marc Levy
Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania speaks during his first Capitol news conference after the election, Nov. 16, 2022, in Harrisburg, Pa.

A school superintendent who won Pennsylvania superintendent of the year and has experience in both the wealthiest and poorest districts will be Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro's nominee for secretary of education, the Democrat said Monday.

Khalid Mumin, who has been superintendent of the Lower Merion School District in suburban Philadelphia for a little over a year, will be nominated after Shapiro is inaugurated on Jan. 17.

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Before joining Lower Merion, Mumin, 50, was superintendent for seven years at the Reading School District, the state's biggest majority Latino district at more than 80% of students and also one of the state's largest and poorest districts. Lower Merion is one of the state's wealthiest districts.

At Reading, Mumin won superintendent of the year from the superintendents' statewide trade association.

At the time Mumin took the job in Reading, the district was in financial tumult, beset by poor record-keeping and dysfunction, in danger of being taken over by the state and suffering from a revolving door of superintendents coming and going, Reading officials said.

There, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators said Mumin “demonstrated visionary leadership right from the start to get the district back on a positive track and focused on academic growth and support.”

Brian Buerke, who joined the school board a year after Mumin came to Reading and eventually became school board president, said Mumin helped straighten out the district's financial mess, negotiate new contracts for staff and instill confidence that the district was headed in the right direction.

“He just did a great job of identifying what the issues were, bringing them to the board, creating strategies and seeing it through, getting his people, his staff to make it work,” Buerke said. “He just tackled each problem at a time and we conquered a lot of problems when I was on the board.”

One of those serious problems was a special education program that was an organizational mess and the target of numerous costly lawsuits. Children were not getting the services they needed because program staff “didn’t know who needed what,” Buerke said.

Mumin brought in people who he knew could turn it around, Buerke said.

Mumin also got an endorsement from the state's largest school employees' union.

In a statement, Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, called Mumin an “outstanding choice” for secretary of education, and an “extraordinary leader and a committed educator.”

Holding the post of secretary of education is subject to confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate.

A Philadelphia native, Mumin has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Pennsylvania and began his teaching career as a second-grade English teacher in Scotland, Pennsylvania, in 1997, Shapiro said.

He'll come to the Department of Education at a time when public school funding in Pennsylvania is under a microscope, and found in recent years to be among the nation’s most inequitable, particularly for districts with heavy populations of Black and Latino students.

Fixing it became a priority of outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and is the subject of a pending lawsuit in Pennsylvania courts filed by several of the state's 500 school districts.

With some exceptions, governors in the past have tended to elevate a school superintendent into the post of education secretary to oversee a department that distributes more than $20 billion in federal and state taxpayer dollars, or about one in five of all dollars administered by the state.

The vast majority of the money goes to public and private schools, institutions of higher education and pensions.

On Monday, Shapiro also announced two other top appointees.

Shapiro selected Nancy Walker to be nominee for secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry. Shapiro, Pennsylvania's attorney general since 2017, hired Walker that year to head up the office's newly created Fair Labor Section. She had been a labor and employment lawyer before that.

The post is also subject to Senate confirmation.

Meanwhile, Shapiro selected state government veteran Neal Weaver to be his secretary of administration. Weaver is currently the acting secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The post is not subject to Senate confirmation.

Updated: January 9, 2023 at 4:45 PM EST
Adds comment by former Reading school board member, and union president, details about Mumin and mention of other appointments by Shapiro