Lawmakers eye elected school superintendents
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – School districts with elected superintendents would vote this November on whether to switch to an appointed superintendent under legislation passed Thursday by the House Education Committee.
The effort is the latest attempt to change the governance structure of Mississippi’s public school districts.
The state currently has a hodgepodge, but in general most municipal districts have an appointed school board and superintendent and most county systems have elected superintendents and school boards.
In Chickasaw County, the Houston and Okolona superintendent is hired by the school board of trustees. In Houlka the Chickasaw County Superintendent Dr. Betsy Collums is elected. Collums was elected in 2011 and was unopposed in her bid for Chickasaw County Superintendent.
In addition to passing legislation to have voters decide whether they want to switch from an elected to an appointed superintendent, the Education Committee also approved a bill to make all school board members elected by 2018.
The Legislature has been grappling for years with the governance of the state’s 153 school districts, which will be trimmed to about 146 once mandated consolidation is completed in the coming years.
Legislation to make all superintendents appointed has passed the Senate multiple times, but died in the House.
About 60 of the nation’s roughly 145 elected superintendents are in Mississippi.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said he believes making all superintendents appointed “is the No. 1 education issue” facing the 2014 Legislature. He said he hopes through negotiations with the House that an agreement can be reached to make all superintendents appointed unless residents petition to have a vote to maintain an elected superintendent.
He said electing a superintendent from the school district limits the talent pool of educators to lead the system and brings undue political influence into the schools. Proponents of elected superintendents maintain the people should have the right to vote.
Proponents of elected school boards maintain since the board members have the power to tax they should be elected by the people.
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