Remind me why we elect our school superintendent?

Here, in its entirety, is what the Georgia Constitution has to say about what the state school superintendent does:

“There shall be a State School Superintendent, who shall be the executive officer of the State Board of Education,” and “the General Assembly shall prescribe the powers (and) duties” of the office.

That’s it.

There are more references in the Constitution to the fact the superintendent is elected than what he or she actually does after being elected. Legislators have indeed given this office certain duties: chiefly, to carry out the policies of the state school board, whose members are appointed by the governor.

Maybe we should rethink whether it makes sense to keep this as an elected office.

In the election campaigns that ended last week, we heard a lot from the candidates for superintendent about such subjects as Common Core and charter schools. Of much more consequence was what the candidates for governor said about education.

By tradition it has been the governor who wrought the biggest educational changes in this state. Joe Frank Harris pushed the Quality Basic Education Act. Zell Miller created the HOPE scholarship. Roy Barnes sought to curb teacher tenure. Sonny Perdue promoted raising the state’s standards, leading to Common Core. Nathan Deal championed the charter schools amendment.

When superintendents have entered the headlines, it has often been because they clashed with governors: Linda Schrenko with Barnes, and John Barge with Deal, to name a couple of examples.

Whether Common Core is eventually scrapped or maintained, it most likely have more to do with the way Deal works in tandem with the state school board than with anything newly elected Superintendent Richard Woods does. Ditto for an overhaul of the QBE funding formula. That’s no knock on Woods, just the limitations of his office.

The most power the superintendent wields may lie in managing the day-to-day operations of the Department of Education. That creates an urge to cater to the bureaucracy, which is the last thing this state needs.

None of this points to an obvious way in which an elected school superintendent holds a kind of independent authority that tends toward educational progress. If anything, elected superintendents may be tempted to boost their own political profiles by opposing the governor or other power brokers.

Besides Georgia, only a dozen other states elect their state school superintendents. The rest, including many of the nation’s highest-performing states educationally, have superintendents who are appointed by the governor.

Moving to an appointed superintendent would be a tough sell that has failed in the past. It would require two-thirds of legislators and half the voters in a referendum to approve a constitutional amendment. Voters don’t like to give up their own authority to choose, no matter how few of them pay close attention to this and other down-ballot races.

It’s a tough sell, but Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, says he’s going to try it. I wish him well, because it’s hard to see the benefit of the way we do things now.

Reader Comments 0

32 comments
MANGLER
MANGLER

Ideologically, it seems to counter the small government conservative mantra to remove the power to decide a high office from the voter and hand it to a politician.  That's giving the government more power, no?


As to elected superintendents clashing with Governors more so than appointed: OK.  Having appointees essentially opens up any system to lackeys and yes men.  


I could almost swear I can hear the right balking at I dunno, every single person Obama has appointed in his tenure and wanting those positions to be challenged.  Why?  If appointing positions is better, then why not also at the Federal level?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MANGLER Not sure how that would grow government. But please do point me to someone who argued Obama's cabinet appointees should have been elected instead.

notagain
notagain

Continue to elect.Appointments go to favorites of the one doing the appointing,and if they don't mind,then they are removed.We have enough of this,,,,

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

An appointed superintendent would seem to support our liberals' need for cooperation in government. 

I don't know how it works at the state level, but as long as we don't have to meet some salary contract, long after the superintendent has been "dismissed" by force, I see no harm in appointing.

Here in Clayton County, they're appointed by school board members. When the members are at odds with the superintendent, he/she is usually out and the taxpayers continue to pay their salary along with the salary of a newly appointed superintendent.

Over the years that has proven detrimental to our school system. 

MHSmith
MHSmith

Don't fool yourself Kyle, either way the choice between having a State School Superintendent, elected or appointed, is still POLITICAL. It is only a pet preference, not an assurance of better results, this idea is offering.

Once again, it looks like the Republican General Assembly plans on wasting time and our money on nothing of real importance -

e.g. medical marijuana law, right to try before you die law, right to die with dignity law similar to that of Oregon: None of which significantly grows the size or scope of government that enhances personal liberty, offers hope of extending life in some cases, in others it improves the quality of life free of seizures and gives the dying the right to end the needless pain and suffering of the dying in agony while their loved ones watch the misery of it all.   


Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

Great article Kyle.

Original subject, conservative thinking, unique and rare point of view.

Educational, not pedantic, elitist and insufferably false like that leftist fellow you platoon with. 

campfire
campfire

@Yes_Jesus_Can No, this is not an original subject, nor unique. This is the Chamber's agenda. The Chamber wants an appointed Super because one person is far easier to control than 14 board members. The answer here is to give the Super more power so that he can have the ability to counter the powers of the Governor's Office. The people deserve complete accountability on education, and we should have both an elected Super and an elected Board. The Chamber wants voters to exchange one for the other. The people should demand the vote for both.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

With the history of ethically challenged Governors in this state i'm not sure we want them appointing anyone.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Along with the stupid "story chatter" in the corner, there is also a browser issue with the new site.  If I go to this article from the front page > politics page > article link, I can't hit the back button to get to the "politics" page.  It wants me to browse two pages back to get there.  There is also that new feature where evidently the article is on top of your own blog page, and to get back to the blog page, you click the big "X" in the circle in the upper right.  (Even if that is NOT how I got to the article.)

This is not intuitive and makes the site more difficult to browse. 

Glad I figured it out because it was bugging me not being able to logically hit the "back" button and go to the last page I was on. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

Yes, Tiberius, that is off-topic. I'm sure I'll be tackling that topic head-on soon enough for you to raise your questions.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Remind me why the State don't pay for the education, instead of local property taxes. 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

" elected superintendents may be tempted to boost their own political profiles "

Oh, you don't say. It happens either way. They're politicians for the most part.


Well, my hope would be that an educational professional would be running for this office, and not a politician, although playing politics seems to be the norm in Georgia due to the embedded Good Ol' Boy network. 


Until we get a more ethical governor, we really do not need another buddy posted to a high-level post.  By default, the governors buddies put into the board can already do what he wants.   Having everyone appointed by the governor pretty much makes it a "yes man" to the governor.


I'd rather have a Board of Education / Superintendent fighting the governor on behalf of students than a bunch of governor appointed buddies.  Having at least one or both as elected instead of appointed would keep balance in the position. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude If you want a more professional superintendent, you're more likely to get it by having the position appointed. Keep it an elected office, and you'll keep getting politicians.

As for the "yes man" to the governor: The current situation is you either have a superintendent who works with the governor or one who works against him -- but without any independent source of power. Budget, policy, bosses: They all come from someone else. The notion that the superintendent currently could offer meaningful opposition to the governor isn't borne out by reality.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude Then why even have a Superintendent if it's all up to the governor? 


Or really, any of those appointed positions by the governor? 


Your "works with or against" is too simplistic.  We need a School Superintendent who works for the STUDENTS.  The governor should be professional enough to work with and compromise for the balance of benefits to the students vs benefits to the state.  Instead, we have governors who play politics, and school superintendents who have to play politics back just to keep up. 


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "We need a School Superintendent who works for the STUDENTS."

If I'm being simplistic, you're being a bit naive here. I'm not saying the superintendent shouldn't work for students; on the contrary. But the superintendent doesn't have the independence now, even in an elected office, to do that -- and giving him more independence is even less likely than the change I've described.

I'd rather get everyone rowing on the same team, and let the voters throw out the team if they're going the wrong way. Right now there's less accountability to the voters because the governor and the superintendent can simply blame each other when things go wrong.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Changing the school superintendent office from elected to appointed one appears to be a solution in search of the problem. What is most noticeable about Kyle’s article is that he does not present any cogent argument for the change, other than a vague notion that it might be better.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator


@MarkVV Other than the fact the office has no real power, results in things being said in election campaigns that ultimately don't matter, and leads to situations where the person in question tends to clash with the governor and cater to the bureaucracy ... yeah, I guess I didn't have much to say.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV 


You are quite right, Kyle, you said hardly anything at all. Whether the office has any real power is immaterial with regard to the choice between elected and appointed, and the same for “things being said in election campaigns that ultimately don't matter.” As for clashing with the governor, that argument is predicated on the expectation that the governor will always have the right policy – something that you have no way of knowing.


LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV

So, basically the argument is: 


"It makes the governor look bad when the governor screws the students and is called out for it.  It's just better for everyone to just shut up and play along with the governor." 


Yes, I know I'm oversimplifying it.  But come on, Kyle. This is how it's coming across. 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV No real power? What if the person elected actually has a brain, listens to both constituents,local boards, and education specialists and then puts together a strategy that can be presented to the Board and Governor to IMPROVE education results, effectiveness and efficiency?


Your contention that the present scheme is only to promote a bureaucracy within the state Dept of Education is not what the people or governor or legislature should strive for nor allow!


Or is this all that repubs wish or are capable to do?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "I know I'm oversimplifying it"


You misspelled "mischaracterizing."


Where did I ever say anything about making the governor "look bad"? The point is, as I mentioned in another response to you, the superintendent has no independent power that allows him to be an actual check on the governor's power; he can just rail from the bully pulpit, and even there the governor's bully pulpit is larger and more effective. I'm not worried about who does or doesn't "look bad," but come to think of it, that is just about the only thing the superintendent can accomplish even now.


So I'd rather see the governor put together his team, including a superintendent, and take the responsibility for education -- rather than taking credit when things go well, and assigning blame to another elected official when they don't. The fact that 37 states already do it this way, many of them to greater effect in terms of school success, underscores that I'm not proposing some crazy idea antithetical to good public education policy.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar "What if the person elected actually has a brain, listens to both constituents,local boards, and education specialists and then puts together a strategy that can be presented to the Board and Governor to IMPROVE education results, effectiveness and efficiency?"


Any person in the state can do that, with scarcely less independent ability to have it implemented. That's what I mean by "no real power."

concernedoldtimer
concernedoldtimer

Elected board and appointed superintendent is the way to go.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Remember, Georgia is the number "57th" state in education rankings. Somethings got to give.



Caius
Caius

@IReportYouWhineTheGreat

Close the local boards and go with just one state board?

Close both the state and local boards and go with a national board?

Turn "public" education over to a private company?