Elected vs. appointed superintendents

Published 10:07pm Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Alabama State Legislature passed several bills in its last session that will make sweeping changes in education.  Perhaps the most noticeable one is Senate Bill 310 (Tenure Reforms), also called Students First Act of 2011.  A large number of bills failed to be enacted this year, but they are not dead.  They will probably be considered in the next legislative session.

Some acts that are certain to resurface are:

Mandating a school calendar with a start and end date; eliminating the position of elected superintendents; limiting the formation of new city school systems; establishing charter schools and voucher initiatives; providing merit/incentive pay for teachers based on performance; and expanding home school options in public schools (Tim Tebow Bill).

There continues to be a debate of elected versus appointed school superintendents.  The issue has its pros and cons.  There are approximately 15,000 superintendents in the United States.  Less than 1 percent is elected.  Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama are the only three states that allow for the election of school superintendents.  Mississippi elects the most superintendents (65).  Presently, Alabama has 39 elected superintendents and 93 appointed ones.

“The Laws of Alabama Relating to Education,” published by the State Department of Education, defines the qualifications for superintendent as a person who holds an Alabama certificate in administration and supervision, has three years of successful educational experience as a teacher, principal, supervisor, superintendent, educational administrator or instructor in school administration, holds a degree from a recognized four-year college or university, and submits proof to the board that he is knowledgeable in school administration.

People in the southeast have a strong conviction for both the elected or appointed school superintendent.  The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) indicated proponents of electing superintendents say that system is more democratic. Superintendents chosen by voters represent the communities they serve and are likely to be more responsive to their districts’ needs.  Proponents also say that elected superintendents balance the power of the school boards because they are less likely to be influenced by school boards’ agendas and are freer to voice views that contradict these agendas.

However, SREB stated opponents of electing superintendents say that an appointed system has a clear line of accountability.

Appointed superintendents are accountable to the school board; board members, if elected, are accountable to the voters.  Advocates of appointing superintendents say this system increases the pool of qualified candidates for the jobs because they are not required to be residents of the district.

A large number of  candidates gives the school board a better chance to find a candidate who meets the district’s needs.  Supporters of this system say that appointed superintendents spend their time running schools, not running for office. The question has been raised, “Is there a difference in student performance outcomes when school officials are either elected or appointed?”

Findings indicate that there are not any differences in student performance when the school superintendent or the school board is appointed rather than elected.

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