Nunnelee tries to take politics from education

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, is enjoying his 10th session in the Mississippi Legislature. During the prior nine years he has filed two bills nine different times. This year is no exception, save the fact that possibly a committee vote might actually see the light of day for at least one of the two bills.

SB2003 and SB2031 would realign the way superintendents and school board members are selected in Mississippi. SB2003 would require that all superintendents be appointed by the governing school board while SB2031 would require all school board members be elected by the electorate who makes up the school district.

Both bills have tremendous goals: ensure fair representation to all voters and take some of the politics out of our educational systems.

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Nunnelee says SB2031 is the most important to him because of a school board&8217;s ability to tax citizens.

&8220;I just firmly believe that any entity that has the authority to tax should have the obligation to face those who they will tax,&8221; Nunnelee said.

In Mississippi, municipal school districts often have both appointed and elected members on their school board. Nunnelee would argue that those who are appointed are not directly responsible to the voters they might vote to tax.

A more interesting problem, Nunnelee says, is where municipal school district boundaries stretch outside the boundaries of the municipality.

&8220;Not only do the people living in these areas not have the ability to vote on their school board member, they cannot even vote on the city leaders who will appoint these school board members,&8221; Nunnelee said.

For SB2003, Nunnelee seeks to have all superintendents appointed by an elected school board rather than elected themselves. He said the dynamic of having elected board members and elected superintendents often leads to political divisions among administrators.

&8220;If you have an elected school board member with a different agenda than an elected superintendent and both are answering to the same voters, then it can create difficulties within the school system,&8221; Nunnelee said.

In Mississippi, county school board members are all elected, as are superintendents. In municipal school districts, boards are generally split between elected and appointed members. Municipal districts have appointed superintendents.

In looking at the top Mississippi schools, most are municipal districts. Opponents of the school board bill argue that to achieve the best districts you should do as they do and appoint and elect members to the board. Of course, these same opponents generally say little about appointing superintendents rather than electing them because in Mississippi it is just unheard of to change an office from elected to appointed.

But here is a rather straightforward, factual rationale behind what Nunnelee keeps attempting to achieve. First, Nunnelee is right when he says that any board with the authority to tax should be obligated to face the voters. In addition, school boards hold the purse strings, and they therefore should answer directly to the voters. Furthermore, an elected school board would serve as the people&8217;s voice in the selection of superintendents.

Choosing superintendents who lead our educational systems based on popular vote is absurd. Education is a professional career that requires educational expertise for success. Otherwise, those elected to the positions might be a supervisor who is more than two decades removed from teaching but decides to run because he is shutting down his private business and the supervisor&8217;s salary is not enough. This is not the man you want leading your schools.

Given, Mississippi has some good elected superintendents. That said, if they are qualified candidates, then they will survive the scrutiny of a selection board. Otherwise, they are a politician with no business in education.

Sam R. Hall

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