I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Elected or Appointed Superintendent of Schools?

I've been an outspoken advocate, for a long time now,  for the model of school boards hiring superintendents, directing them, overseeing them, holding them accountable, and evaluating them on an annual basis.

This is the way 99.2% of our nation's 15,000 school districts operate, and it gives the voters maximum oversight, accountability, and control of  district schools.  I've given my opinions about this subject on this blog here and here.

The PNJ ran a front-page story on the issue this past Sunday.

A recent viewpoint appeared in the Sunday PNJ

In Tallahassee, the editorial board of the paper there has called for appointing of superintendents after the superintendent of that school district was the subject of an FBI corruption probe recently.

But the false-perception lingers among some voters that feel they "lose control" if they allow duly elected school board members to hire the superintendent of schools.   This false view is a big  problem.   "I want to elect two of the persons that run schools locally, not one!" said one person I spoke with recently about this.  His sentiments are echoed by many.

What people don't realize is that with elected superintendents, once you vote one in, you are stuck with that person for 4 years. If he initiates curriculum you don't want---too bad!  You are stuck.  For 4 years. If he disregards the elected board, too bad.  You are stuck.  For 4 years.

Elected superintendents are powerful and they politicize the system and the position whether knowingly or unconsciously.  The only realistic "check" on their power is the ballot box on an infrequent, four year cycle.

Eventually, elected superintendents accumulate so much power that they become all but unbeatable in elections; eventually they end up greatly influencing the elections of the very school board members that (allegedly) serve as a check to their massive and ever-growing power.  This accumulation of power becomes almost absolute after a second and subsequent term absent some self-inflicted political catastrophe on the part of the elected superintendent of schools.

Irregardless of how he/she portrays themselves--the multi-term incumbent, elected superintendent of schools  (holding the large expenditure purchasing decision power and the employment fate of so many people singularly in his/her hands yearly)  eventually accumulates power that is nearly absolute..

Lord Acton famously describes what absolute power does to any person, and his famous quotation on this subject remains spot-on.

  Appointed superintendents, by contrast, are always on the bubble.  They can and do concentrate on doing their jobs instead of appeasing special interests to win the next election.
 With appointed superintendents, the board members who are elected every two years can hold the superintendent accountable, lest they themselves will be out of a job at the hands of an angry constituency in the next election!

Boards can censure, re-direct, and/or terminate an appointed superintendent immediately if he/she does not perform or follow school board policy.   That is maximum accountability for the electorate--as it should be.

But neither an appointed nor elected  "system" is a magic bullet panacea that cures all issues in school districts.  For optimal performance, an active engaged school board that works well together making policy in concert with an appointed superintendent, with the courage to hold the superintendent accountable for executing the policy, is the best model.

But either way-- it all starts with the board.

Either type system needs a board that is engaged, astute, and aware of the issues.  Absent this, the system or model (elected vs appointed) that puts the head man in charge is really a problem of a lesser degree...

Yes, more important than whether a superintendent is elected or appointed, is whether or not members of a school district's  board are paying attention, actively following the issues, and keeping the pressure on the administration to follow board policy with fidelity.

If members of a school board are just going along to get along, providing only milk-toast, anemic oversight/opposition to bad policy or budgetary recommendations, or worse yet----"mailing it in" and doing precisely what they are told by the superintendent----then no system or superintendent installation model will work effectively, ever.

No comments: