Appointed school leaders needed education step

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, March 18, 2012

From constables to state Supreme Court justices, Mississippians love to elect our leaders.

     In the majority of cases, elections yield highly qualified officeholders, many of whom serve multiple terms in their leadership capacities. And their offices and their communities are the better for their service.

     But with politics sometimes spiraling into a popularity contest, there are times when less-than-qualified people take office. The ballot box will eventually correct the matter, but that means waiting for another election to make things right.

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     Education is one area where it is critical that the best and most qualified individuals are in positions of leadership from day one.

     While Lincoln County has been blessed to have highly competent and qualified elected superintendents of education over the years, other school districts cannot lay claim to that advantage. And since electing a superintendent means the officeholder must reside within the region served, citizens in districts with poor elected leadership often have limited options for remedying their situations.

     With that in mind, a bill making its way through the 2012 legislative session would mandate appointed superintendents by January 2016, which would be the end of the four-year terms of current superintendents. The bill passed the Senate by a big margin earlier this week and is awaiting consideration by the House of Representatives.

     According to the Mississippi Economic Council, which has designated appointed superintendents as one of its priority legislative measures under its Blueprint Mississippi recommendations, Mississippi is one of only three states that still have elected superintendents. These primarily represent county districts. Superintendents of municipal school districts, and some others, already are appointed in Mississippi.

     MEC goes on to say that of approximately 14,500 school districts in the country, there are only 147 elected superintendents. Sixty-four of those are in Mississippi.

     MEC maintains that moving to all-appointed superintendents would give local elected school boards, who would be responsible for choosing their district’s top administrator, the ability to attract the best possible candidate through nationwide searches and other methods.

     Currently, elected superintendents must live in the county where they serve and have a valid administrator’s license.

     When a poor-performing officeholder continues to be re-elected, either because of politics and/or limited alternatives, the only hope for change would be the incumbent’s resignation or retirement.

     Besides the impact on children’s education, which is significant enough, there are wide-ranging economic development ramifications for the community that is home to a poor-performing district. New industries are unlikely to want to locate in areas with poor schools. Thus, the very areas that are most in need of new jobs miss out.

     The impact can also spread to the surrounding area.

     In today’s highly competitive environment, regional cooperation and inter-dependency are vital aspects of economic development.

     Business and industry leaders not only look at the community where they are considering locating, but also the surrounding areas. After all, there is a great possibility that some of their employees could be commuting from a neighboring county.

     So while a prospective host community may have a strong education foundation, business and industry site selectors would see poor education systems in surrounding counties as a check in the negative column. If business and industry cannot count on the ability to have a qualified workforce in the area, they will not locate there.

     Granted, having superintendents appointed by the school board would remove a direct say that voters have in deciding who the district leader will be. However, it would increase the elected school board members’ responsibility and accountability to ensure the district has the best leadership possible.

     Having appointed superintendents is not a cure-all for the ills that school districts across Mississippi face. But education and leadership in the teaching of our children are too important to have anything but the best and most qualified people running our school systems.

       Appointing superintendents represents a major step in the right direction.