By NEMS Daily Journal
Moving to a system of appointed superintendents in all school districts in the state has been advocated by groups like the Mississippi Economic Council for decades.
This newspaper for just as many years has editorially supported the concept – not because elected superintendents are automatically inferior to their appointed counterparts but because elections greatly restrict local school districts in choosing their leaders.
A bill requiring appointed superintendents in all Mississippi districts probably has more momentum this legislative session than ever before. Both House and Senate education committee chairmen support the change, and it appears to have broad support.
Part of the reason is that in recent years some elected county superintendents have taken a more aggressive posture in legislative races, supporting or opposing candidates based on their stances on education. This hasn’t set well with many legislators. But political conflicts aside, there are genuine advantages to moving to an all-appointed system.
The most compelling argument is that it expands the potential field of candidates dramatically. Elected superintendents must live the county in which they will serve. This automatically restricts the talent pool.
That’s not to say that there aren’t highly qualified individuals living in many school districts who choose to run, and there certainly are a number of elected superintendents who do an excellent job. But why, when Mississippi districts are trying to compete nationally and even internationally, should a superintendent search be restricted to one county?
Political skills in a broad sense are a requirement for any effective superintendent, elected or appointed, but an elected superintendent must by definition be overly preoccupied with keeping political fences mended if he or she is to achieve or stay in office. It’s a distraction that takes away from what the focus of the job should be, and it also blurs accountability since school boards have no real authority over an elected superintendent.
If the law is changed and the state transitions to all-appointed superintendents, many boards would no doubt rehire the sitting school leader. But they should have the choice of looking elsewhere.
Nationally, only 1 percent of superintendents are elected. Nearly half of those are in Mississippi. Our results don’t justify sticking with a system so clearly out of sync with the rest of the nation.