Elected school superintendents feel unneeded political pressure

Published 1:57 pm Thursday, September 22, 2011

By The (Columbus) Commercial Dispatch:

Ask any elected official and he will tell you (if he’s honest) that it’s hard to make the tough-but-necessary decisions when you’re trying to win a popularity contest.

For the 64 elected school superintendents in the state of Mississippi, that’s the challenge they face.

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Sure, they can push for sweeping changes in a district, things that might not go over well with the public but make for better schools in the long run.

But let’s face it.

Most of us don’t like change.

And the more you change what we know and are comfortable with, the less likely we are to vote you back into office.

Aside from that, once you throw politics in, you severely limit your options.

Elected superintendents have to live in the district or county they represent.

They also have to be a certified administrator, meager prerequisites for such weighty responsibility. By weighty, we mean an operation with as much as a $50 million budget — or larger — and hundreds of employees. And let’s not forget the monumental responsibility of educating the next generation.

And they have to be willing to run for election. The most qualified prospects might not want to launch a political campaign.

At times, that has left us with no real choice: One person qualifies to run, so we have to hope they do all right.

If not, they’ve got four whole years to continue to get it wrong.

Out of the nation’s 14,500 or so superintendents of education, only 147 are elected, and most of them are in Mississippi.

A better way to retain public accountability is to elect the school board and let them select the superintendent. That way, the board answers to the public, and the superintendent can make tough decisions without fearing retribution at the ballot box. …

This year, among the legislative initiatives supported by the Mississippi School Boards Association is phasing out elected superintendents.

We hope they are successful.


The Dispatch