One of the concerns going into this legislative session was another concerted push to allow for elected school Superintendents, rather than appointed Directors of Schools as is currently mandated. On Tuesday, the elected superintendents bill — HB3374 (Winningham) — was “taken off notice,” meaning it’s not scheduled for a vote.
It was not withdrawn, so it could come back, but the companion (SB2970, Burks) hasn’t been scheduled for a committee hearing yet either, and the session is moving toward closure.
The folks who support elected superintendents seek greater accountability to the public — so that he or she can be replaced at the will of the electorate. This group likely includes a fair number of county commissioners and county mayors, who would like for someone else to share the blame for tax increases needed to fund education.
The merits of an appointed Director of Schools are several. First, it facilitates a good working relationship between the elected school board (that sets policy and approves budgets), and the Director (who implements the Board’s policy and constructs the budget, which may be modified by the Board before approval). Secondly, it enables the school board to select a Director based upon the qualifications, experience, and skills needed for the job, not personal charisma and name recognition.
Further, it greatly broadens the pool of available talent. It’s not uncommon for school systems to search nationwide for the right candidate; depending on the size of the community, there may be few if any local residents who would truly meet the needs of the school system. Fewer still might be interested in having to run for office.
Lastly, it keeps politics out of the inner workings of schools — promoting a system based upon professionalism rather than political alliance.
While there are merits on both sides of the argument, the current system of appointing Directors of Schools is far better than the alternative. For a more detailed analysis, see the Tennessee School Boards Association’s position paper on this issue.