OUR OPINION: Bill would force school referendum

By NEMS Daily Journal

Supporters of reform in Mississippi school districts with elected superintendents used House rules Wednesday to resurrect a bill that could lead to abolition of elected superintendents if voters approve in mandated referendums in 2014.
The bill, which goes to the Senate where it could face an eventual request for conference committee negotiations, passage, or rejection, had died in a Monday House vote after years of work by reformers who argue elected superintendents automatically restrict the number of qualified possible superintendents by a requirement of district residency.
The House leadership won enough votes Wednesday to pass the bill, 62-55.
Mississippi has 64 of the nation’s remaining 146 elected-superintendent districts, a fading system directly injecting politics into the administration of public schools, distracting from an exclusive focus on educational achievement and limiting the pool from which superintendents can be chosen.
The House’s bill would require the referendum in every district with an elected superintendent.
The House-passed bill does not have a provision dealing with required elected school district trustees.
The political divide between supporters of appointed, locally confirmed trustees and advocates of all-elected trustees is sharp.
The bill passed in the House does not have an elected board provision.
In a surprise move earlier in the session, the Senate amended legislation that would have required all local school board members to be elected to instead establish a study task force.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said he supported the amendment creating the task force offered by Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian.
The House had narrowly killed the bill on Monday, but it had been held on a motion to reconsider.
The vote Wednesday was 62-55 on Senate Bill 2199.
Opponents of appointed superintendents say voters should pick their superintendents directly.
The bill was amended in the House and requires a direct referendum by voters in the November 2014 general election.
It should be noted that voters in some districts in the late 1980s held referendums on whether to switch to appointed superintendents, and all kept elected ones.
While a bill that only allowed a referendum after a petition by voters in a school district would have been preferable, this revived legislation at least gives proponents of appointed superintendents a chance at change. That would be better than no movement at all on the issue.