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Superintendent shouldn’t be a political position

Staff Report • Jan 7, 2013 at 8:55 AM

The 108th Tennessee General Assembly, which convenes Tuesday, will undoubtedly find lawmakers revisiting many of the same divisive issues they have wrestled with in the past. Wine in grocery stores, guns in parking lots and mountaintop coal removal are just a few of these perennial hot potatoes.

But despite what some county commissioners across the state might believe, there is no compelling reason for legislators to waste their time this year on legislation to return Tennessee to the antiquated and discredited practice of electing county school superintendents.

More than 20 years ago, state lawmakers approved a visionary K-12 reform plan that included a provision requiring all school superintendents (who are also called director of schools in some districts) in Tennessee to be appointed by local boards of education instead of being elected every four years by the voters.

The idea behind the move was to bring a greater degree of professionalism to the position of school superintendent by insulating the job from petty politics. Appointing experienced school superintendents was not a new concept back in 1992. Most municipal school systems already were doing it in Tennessee. It also had become a standard practice for school districts all across the United States.

Only three states — Alabama, Florida and Mississippi — continue to elect county school superintendents. Officials with the Tennessee School Board Association say the election of school superintendents is an idea whose time has passed. Unfortunately, some misguided state lawmakers haven’t gotten the message. There’s certain to be bills placed on the docket in Nashville this year to put the job of school superintendent back on the ballot. Similar legislation has failed numerous times the General Assembly in recent years.

Proponents of electing the superintendent of schools argue it was not right to take that decision away from the voters. We, however, would argue that instead of putting the job of school superintendent back on the ballot, voters should take more of an interest in local races for the Board of Education. Races for seats on the school board rarely get the attention they merit. Electing the school superintendent will do nothing to remedy this serious problem. Instead, it would return the state’s educational system to the dark days of political cronyism.

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