OUR OPINION: Appointed superintendents offer greater hiring options

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Senate’s overwhelming 43-9 passage of a bill requiring appointed school superintendents in all districts would place district administration on an administratively even keel statewide for the first time, removing electoral politics from that key position.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the Legislature would not deal with elected school boards until later. Both issues have at times been controversial.
The Senate-passed bill requires the appointment, rather than election, of all local school superintendents by their local school boards beginning Jan. 1, 2016.
In the language of the bill, “At the expiration of the term of any county superintendent of education elected in the November 2011 general election, the superintendent of said county will not be elected but will be subject to appointment by the local school board. (The bill also) authorizes a referendum on retaining the office of elected county superintendent … ”
Mississippi is one of only three states allowing elected district superintendents. Nationwide, Tollison noted, only 147 of 14,500 districts have elected superintendents, and 64 of those are in Mississippi. Tollison said the preferred nationwide model is elected school boards and appointed superintendents, a reasonable balance.
As it stands, most municipal superintendents in Mississippi are appointed by appointed trustees confirmed by a city governing board or council. Elected superintendents usually are in county districts which also have elected school boards.
The state’s chief business organization, the Mississippi Economic Council, has for years supported all-appointed superintendents because of its overview of how school systems operate in states competing with Mississippi for jobs investment.
Electing superintendents automatically divides voters into competing camps, and residual hard feelings, resentments and factionalism sometimes linger, even extending into subsequent administrative decisions, faculty hiring and other kinds of job openings in a district.
MEC, in its position statement, said it recognizes the state has many “exceptional superintendents, both elected and appointed, (but) transitioning to all-appointed superintendents will ensure all districts have the ability to select the best possible candidates.”
That would be possible, MEC and many others contend, because appointment “increases the number of candidates who can apply for the position of superintendent.”
We hope the House agrees with the Senate so the reasonable transition to all-appointed superintendents statewide can begin without delay.