Education More News |

Elect school superintendents, Georgia lawmakers say

Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 8:13 AM
Last updated 7:51 PM
  • Follow Government

ATLANTA - A legislator is traveling the state trying to build support for his constitutional amendment to allow local school districts to elect their superintendent instead of a board appointment.

Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, says he sponsored House Resolution 550 because he believes, as someone who must be elected, that giving the voters a say makes for more responsive public officials.

He hastens to add that his wife and daughter are teachers and his father-in-law was an assistant superintendent. Plus, he has no complaints about his own superintendent in Pickens County.

“I like mine very well, so don’t take it that way, and it’s not personal,” he said.

The amendment wouldn’t require the election of superintendents in all 180 school districts but merely make it the option of each local legislative delegation.

“It’s an opportunity to give Georgians a choice,” said Jasperse, a retired county agent.

He introduced it fairly late in the last legislative session, so it hasn’t even been assigned to a House committee yet. To get on next year’s ballot, it would have to gain the backing of two-thirds of the House and Senate.

It already has some impressive cosponsors in former Republican Whip Ed Lindsey and Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Chairman Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta.

Jasperse has been trying to build support for HR 550 by traveling the state, both in speaking to grassroots organizations and in joining the House and Senate education committees in a series of “listening sessions” in a dozen cities.

He notes that parents like the idea when they hear it, but in addressing a group of superintendents, he rightly anticipates their objections.

“I’m sure there’ll be an impassioned response,” he quipped during a session in Newnan last month.

He was right. One local superintendent called it “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Three of the four announced candidates for state superintendent of schools oppose Jasperse’s amendment, and the fourth hasn’t said. However, the only Democrat in the race so far says she’s willing to let voters decide.

Veteran educators remember why they campaigned to get the state to end elected superintendents in 1992. They pushed a constitutional amendment then to make all superintendents appointees of a locally elected board.

“PAGE was in favor of (the change to appointments) back then because we had heard too many horror stories of the ‘politics’ that had negatively impacted instructional programs across the state,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher organization.

Since school taxes are the largest local tax most voters pay, elected superintendents face considerable pressure to cut costs to minimize them.

“I don’t think extra accountability to the public is a bad thing at all. Everybody would want that,” said Justin Pauly, spokesman for the Georgia School Boards Association. “We’re just worried about unintended consequences.”

He worries that elected superintendents will focus more on getting re-elected than on what’s best for the students.

There are a couple of practical considerations as well, Pauly said. To be elected, a candidate must reside in the district, but that prevents the regional and national talent searches many boards now use to get their system’s chief executive. Many hire consultants to screen applicants before the board even interviews them.

Political candidates aren’t subject to criminal background checks. And in Mississippi where superintendents are still elected, some districts are so small that no one runs for the job.

Another consideration is the potential for increased clashes during board meetings if everyone in the room is a politician claiming a mandate from the voters.

“Having both the board and the superintendent popularly elected could cause additional conflict in that both feel that are representing the wishes of voters,” said Matt Jones of EmpowerED Georgia. “Most Georgians do not want additional conflict on the school governance level, and such conflict could provide an avenue to jeopardize a school system’s accreditation.”

When systems have lost accreditation, it was because of constant disputes between the board and superintendent -- not student performance.

While educators have their reasons for opposing Jasperse’s amendment, the decision will come down to voters. In an era of increased populism -- from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Tea Party -- ordinary citizens are hungering for a greater say in their government, and that is what Jasperse is trying to quench.

Comments (4) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Riverman1 11/18/13 - 09:56 am
I'm For It

It’s an interesting subject and I do remember when Columbia County replaced an esteemed superintendent in an election. The two biggest complaints I note from the article are the elimination of outside candidates and possible conflicts with local BOE’s.

The fact is Columbia County has only appointed someone from outside the county in decades and he was fired. In Richmond County there was the traveling salesman, carnival show barker, Dana Bedden, who moved on after a couple of years, but the rest have been from here. The current superintendent, Frank Roberson, did come from the county across the river, but that’s not far.

As far as conflicts with the BOE, that could be a good thing. I will never forget what one former Columbia County BOE member told me about the evaluations of a particular superintendent. He said he didn’t want to fire him or anything, but suggested they comment on the evaluation a shortcoming the county had experienced. In other words, give him an A instead of an A plus. He said the other members jumped all over him and said that would only make the superintendent angry.

Maybe some independence can work in ways not intended and be a good thing. I’m for it.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 11/18/13 - 10:52 am

Rep. Jasperse doesn't realize how a board of education works. He sees the superintendent as the big cheese, and the board trustees as pawns to be manipulated by the superintendent to achieve the superintendent's goals.

The better model is for the board trustees to be seen as the policymakers, with the superintendent answering to the trustees to carry out their policies and goals.

There are, of course, pros and cons with both models. I prefer having the superintendent answer to the board, rather than the other way around.

griff6035 11/18/13 - 10:56 am
Term Limits

Put term limits on school board members.

Dixieman 11/18/13 - 11:43 am
Implement a total voucher system

which allows $ to follow the students to any school, public, private or religious. Watch the schools in the CSRA get much better overnight. Nothing -- nothing -- else will work. Electing superintendents is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs