Legislatorland this Week

How appropriate that the sun is shining this morning, after a a stormy first half of the week.

Yesterday, HB1849/*SB0872, a bill allowing elected superintendents (at the discretion of County Commission) failed in the House Education Committee on a 6-9 vote. For that, I am thankful.

Superintendents (now called Directors of Schools, but old habits die hard) have a difficult job — one of managing large budgets, personnel, and implementing policy set by an elected board. It’s decidedly a job for a professional, and the type of expertise needed by a school system varies depending on its immediate and long-term goals.

The qualities needed to be elected to public office may or may not be consistent with the qualities needed in a professional director of schools. Worse, most school systems in this state would have a rather limited pool to choose from simply due to population limitations. When Oak Ridge chose a new Director of Schools several years ago, the Board conducted a national search with the assistance of the Tennessee School Boards Association for recruiting and screening.

The present system demands a largely cooperative relationship between the Director and the elected Board of Education, with the former being accountable to the latter. The Board is accountable to the electorate, with the front-line educators insulated from the politics of it all. As they should be.

Voting against HB1849 in committee yesterday were John Hood, Mark Maddox, Joe Towns, Ulysses Jones, Larry Turner, Tommie Brown, Gerald McCormick, Dolores Gresham, and Speaker Jimmy Naifeh — I’ll be writing each of them today to thank them.

Voting for the bill were Les Winningham, Harry Brooks, Richard Montgomery, Beth Harwell, John Mark Windle, and Eric Swafford. These are not bad people; indeed, at least two (that I know of) have served as school superintendents before. They were, however, pressured by their respective county commissions, and voted wrongly on this one.

* * * BEP/Fiscal Capacity
On Tuesday, the News Sentinel reported that House sponsors of an effort to change the BEP’s fiscal capacity formula to a flawed model favoring the four largest metro school systems abandoned the cause for this year, with plans going forward for a study this summer to achieve a consensus on funding changes.

Change is desperately needed, but not the kind where money is just moved around from one system to another. If we are to improve statewide, then the State must commit to pay for those things it requires, while giving local governments the option to provide more if they so choose.

I’ll take a temporary win over a permanent loss, but we have to make sure that cities like Oak Ridge, Kingsport, Athens, Cleveland, Tullahoma, Clinton, and Murfreesboro have a seat at the table when changes are discussed.

Having dogged this issue for almost two years now, I’ll say it again: we can’t give up until this proposal is dead, buried, with grass growing on top.

One Response to “Legislatorland this Week”

  1. on 28 Apr 2006 at 11:47 am Barry

    I’ve always maintained you can make a similar case why sheriffs and judges shouldn’t be elected, but appointed. Anyone can run for any office and if they have enough name recognition or money or power they can be elected. And I for one would rather have someone who’s experienced in the skills of that particular job (superintendent, sheriff, judge) being searched for, vetted, interviewed and forced to compete with like candidates.

    I say hire them, not elect them.

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