Elected vs. Appointed Superintendents (again)

The Education Improvement Act of 1992 brought Tennessee’s change from mostly elected superintendents of schools, to a system of Directors of Schools appointed by the local school board. Although only three states still have any elected superintendents, bills to revert to such have been filed every year since 1992.

I wrote about this a couple of years ago, and every word still applies.

Why does it merit a second look? Because last Thursday, Rep. Frank Nicely (R-Knox and Jefferson Counties) tacked on an amendment to HB3857 that would have allowed elected superintendents in his two counties. That bill was tabled, so Nicely then tried to amend HB3455, only this time, a bunch more counties were included: Knox, Jefferson, Cumberland, Bledsoe, Roane, Union, Campbell, Washington, Meigs, Polk, Fentress, Morgan and Overton.

Rep. Ulysses Jones’ motion to table the amendment failed, and it was only because the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gerald McCormick, had previously agreed to refer the bill back to committee if any amendments were added that it didn’t pass on Thursday.

There are still a few more days left in this year’s legislative session, and there are plenty more bills out there that could be amended. After all, HB3455 was about utility districts having the ability to form public building authorities, and HB3857 provides for contracts between local education agencies for use of one another’s facilities in the event of a disaster.

I do wish they’d implement a rule to disallow tacking on unrelated amendments. This is the time of year, with only a few days of voting left in the Legislature, that serious mischief happens.

The News-Sentinel has taken a stand against elected superintendents, as has the Tennessee School Boards Association. The only way to keep professionalism above politics in our schools is to call your state legislator and ask that they vote against any bill or amendment to allow elected superintendents.

A little more professionalism in the Legislature wouldn’t be a bad thing, either.

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postscript:  SchoolMatters is covering this as well.

18 Responses to “Elected vs. Appointed Superintendents (again)”


  1. […] OTB Logo wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe only way to keep professionalism above politics in our schools is to call your state legislator and ask that they vote against any bill or amendment to allow e lected superintendents…. […]

  2. on 17 May 2008 at 2:46 pm Jacket

    While the idea/concept to bring in a “professional” school administrator is the reason for this appointed process, it has generally been a failure.

    School systems in rural areas cannot afford a “professional” (whatever that means) DOS. What usually happens is the Administrator is chosen from “in house” after a veiled search “outside the district” thus keeping the politics ‘in” the process but narrowing who has the say to a body of six or more citizens.

    Sorry NM, my constituency really would like to make this go away and revert back to the old system. The administator chosen in this fashion would not be any diffferent than what the School Board would do but it would be a much more open process.

  3. on 18 May 2008 at 8:18 am Joel

    When the appointed person is on your side, s/he is a “professional.” When s/he is on the other side, the appointed person is a crony.

    There is no necessary barrier to electing a “professional,” nor is appointment a guarantee of professionalism.

    I think a better and more interesting question is which process better lends itself to accountability.

  4. on 18 May 2008 at 8:55 am Netmom

    Appointment does two key things: it removes the constraint of whether the best person for the job happens to already live in the school district, and it clearly delineates responsibilities between the DOS and the Board.

    The sticking point in Tennessee seems to lie in the fact that School Boards have no taxing authority; the DOS proposes a budget, the Board adjusts it if needed and adopts it. A portion of the revenue side of the budget is a request from local government, which DOES have taxing authority. So, if the schools need additional funding, the city council or county commission are the ones who are asked to pass a tax increase.

    If we had elected superintendents, then county commissioners could shift the blame over to the superintendent. There would probably be some shifting of blame between school boards and superintendents as well… not a healthy working relationship.

  5. on 18 May 2008 at 9:15 am Joel

    “If we had elected superintendents, then county commissioners could shift the blame over to the superintendent. There would probably be some shifting of blame between school boards and superintendents as well… not a healthy working relationship.”

    Hmm.

    When I used the word “accountability,” I meant accountability to the citizens who pay for and receive services, not accountability between administrative bodies.

    As for blame-shifting, yes, the whole enterprise relies on a spirit of good-will, trust and respect. Easier to maintain in good times; tends to break down when resources are scarce. It’s not clear to me how the appointment/election dichotomy is obviously resolved by this criterion.

  6. on 19 May 2008 at 9:11 am Jacket

    The point regarding funding is somewhat a problem. However, the only control a Co.Comm. or City Council has over a school budget is the revenue stream. Once it is handed over there is no control, but the funding body has to approve budget amendments.

    Appointed DOS’s have to report only to a panel of board members, not the population in general. This makes School boards less likely to discipline DOS, and the DOS can control the school board wiith only a few votes.

    The budget for the county school system is developed by the director of schools and
    board chair and presented to the full board for its consideration. When the school
    budget has been approved by the board, it must be submitted to the county legislative
    body not later than 45 days prior to the July meeting of the county legislative body or 45
    days prior to the actual date the budget is to be adopted, if such adoption is scheduled
    prior to July 1. T.C.A. § 49-2-203(a)(10). Local option budgeting laws and private acts
    that may be in effect in a particular county will affect the budgeting process and must be
    consulted.
    Under most circumstances, the legislative body either accepts the school budget as
    submitted by the school board or rejects it, in which case the budget is sent back to the
    school board with a specified amount of total funding. The school board then revises the
    specific items to conform with the total appropriated amount. However, the County
    Financial Management System of 1981, codified in T.C.A. § 5-21-101 et seq., seems to
    indicate that the county legislative body, in those counties that have adopted the act,
    may amend the budget proposed by the board of education and adopt a school budget
    without further action by the board of education. T.C.A. § 5-21-111. In spite of the
    statutory language, the state court of appeals has found that the county legislative body
    has no authority under the 1981 act to revise line items in the school budget, but may
    decrease the overall amount. Morgan County Board of Commissioners v. Morgan
    County Board of Education, No. 03A01-9308-CV-00290, 1994 WL 111457 (Tenn. Ct.
    App. April 6, 1994). A more recently enacted law, the Local Option Budgeting Law of
    1993, T.C.A. § 5-12-201 et seq., contains provisions that do allow the county legislative
    body to revise the school budget under specified circumstances, but this law applies only
    in counties that have adopted its provisions. Regardless of the procedure used to adopt
    the budget, once a school budget has passed, any amendment must be approved by the
    school board. T.C.A. § 5-9-407.

  7. on 19 May 2008 at 9:12 am Jacket

    Oops, forgot the quotes. The last two paragraphs are from here:

    http://ctas-notes.ips.utk.edu/PUBLIC/web/ctas.nsf/EntriesWeb/86848984F67FD21B862570F500699666/$FILE/County+Govt+Handbook+Revision.pdf

  8. on 19 May 2008 at 10:07 pm Netmom

    Ok. How about if legislation were proposed to permit elected superintendents, but only upon passage by a 2/3 majority of the school board, rather than county commission? After all, isn’t it the school board’s job to ensure the highest quality educational resources and to be accountable to the citizens for such?

  9. on 20 May 2008 at 7:20 am Jacket

    I could accept that but how about just legislation that defines the qualifications of an elected superintendent that sets out “professional” standards. It is done for sheriff’s to an extent, though I would personally like to see that strengthened also to require more than a H.S. ed. and post cert.

  10. on 20 May 2008 at 7:25 am Netmom

    I would absolutely endorse higher professional standards for superintendents or directors of schools than what we now have written into law — whether elected or appointed.

  11. on 20 May 2008 at 8:24 am Jacket

    See it is easy to agree when one listens to each side and meet in the middle. I agree with the concept of the present system. But have seen it not work with money wasted that could have been diverted to other things, like, oh, I dunno, books.

  12. on 20 May 2008 at 9:08 am Joel

    “I would absolutely endorse higher professional standards for superintendents or directors of schools than what we now have written into law — whether elected or appointed.”

    I’m certainly all about high professional standards. Of course, this comes with a price tag . . .

  13. on 20 May 2008 at 9:31 am Netmom

    The cost difference is probably not as high as one might guess, with the exception of a few very large school systems.

  14. on 20 May 2008 at 9:55 am Joel

    “The cost difference is probably not as high as one might guess, with the exception of a few very large school systems.”

    In the overall budget, you’re absolutely right. But with school boards looking to shave every budget item, you know how tempting it is to save a few thousand by going with a lightweight.

    We just got rid of a disastrous super in our school district. But not before he drove out some of the more talented teachers. That kind of damage is hard to recover from.

  15. on 20 May 2008 at 10:31 am Jacket

    Knox Co. also appears to have had disasterous results in chosing a DOS. They forced the last guy out and had a contract to pay out. The new guy, from Boston, did demand a higher than usual salary for the area with perks. He got it. Time will tell on this one.

    However, most County systems hire from within, set the standards themselves and the salary is negotiated under this system. Rurals going rate is about $90K.

  16. on 27 May 2008 at 3:54 pm Pamela Treacy

    Heads up. This will be brought up again next year. There is a group that is pushing for this.

    I prefer appointed rather than elected. However, I do agree that we need better internal succession planning and leadership development within the school systems.

    KCS had two internal candidates that were not deemed worthy. I am not saying that were, but they should have been groomed better so that they were at the top of the ratings.

    When I was in corporate America, the employees that were targeted for advancement received special training and applied for leadership development programs. I don’t see why we can’t offer the same in public education.

    It’s the key to our future.

  17. on 13 Aug 2008 at 9:45 am AlexM

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  18. on 14 Aug 2008 at 12:27 pm AlexM

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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