Appointing school leaders makes sense

Published 9:16 pm Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Mississippi Senate recently approved legislation that would remove politics from an important county position and increase the likelihood that a qualified individual is leading the state’s school districts.

The Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would let 55 elected superintendents serve the four years of their current term. After that, the local school boards would hire each district’s top administrator. The state has 144 school districts. The superintendent in Lincoln County is elected, while the Brookhaven School District leader is hired.

The Senate voted 40-9 for Senate Bill 2438 which now moves to the House for more work, the Associated Press reported.

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Supporters say the legislation would make it easier for school districts to remove superintendents who are not doing their jobs well. It would also make it easier to find and keep a qualified superintendent.  That makes sense.

Opponents argue that changing the system would rob the people of their power to elect someone to an influential position. But most school board members are elected, so the people still hold the power in those cases.

Currently, a superintendent who is performing poorly can remain in the job until the next election. School boards don’t have the authority to remove an elected superintendent.

Electing superintendents also sets up too many opportunities for political favors. For example: If you can get me a few votes, I will make sure you — or your son or daughter — gets a job at the district. If you don’t think those kinds of conversations happen, you’re blind to the political process.

The current system of electing superintendents also includes residency requirements that do not serve the best interest of the public. An elected superintendent must live in the county where he/she seeks to be elected. That limits the candidate pool, especially in small, sparsely populated counties.

If school boards can seek the most qualified candidate, regardless of their address, school districts have the potential to have stronger leadership.

Gov. Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Board of Education and the Mississippi School Boards Association are among those supporting the change. We agree that it’s the best move for Mississippi.