Senate advances bill for elected superintendents

Published 11:52 am Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mississippi lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to eliminate the election of school superintendents — an issue that has been debated for many years.

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.

Sen. Briggs Hopson voted to approve the bill in the Senate. Hopson also serves as attorney for the Vicksburg Warren School District.

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“I obviously supported that. I have always throught hiring a superintendent is not a popularity contest. We should be hiring the most qualified person to run the district,” Hopson said. “I’ve always favored appointed over elected.”

VWSD Board of Trustees President Bryan Pratt said as far as he knows, since Vicksburg and Warren County consolidated school districts, the superintendent has always been appointed by the board. This legislation, if passed, would not affect the local school district.

“It’s a long time coming. I don’t see a downside to it,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine having to choose from a pool of only people who live in a certain county, but it does give the board the opportunity to choose someone from their county or cast their net a little bit further out and see what other talent is out there. It’s the best of both worlds.”

The ability to choose the best person for the job is the driving factor behind Pratt’s support of the potential legislation.

“I think it’s a win-win for the students,” he said. “I don’t know why you would want to limit your possibilities when we’re talking about the future of our children.”

Pratt said from his perspective, it just makes sense.

“I think the other thing that no one is really addressing — knowing how a board works — is that it really allows a board to set direction and set policy,” he said. “You hire a qualified professional to carry out that policy and make recommendations to the board.”

VWSD Superintendent Chad Shealy said though the legislation won’t affect him if passed, he thinks it’s a good move.

“I personally believe it gives a community the opportunity to remove this particular position from the politics side,” he said. “I feel like a local body choosing a board that represents the community and them being the voice, they can bring their unique needs to that position, and oftentimes in an elected spot it may not be that way.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he applauds the work of the Senate in moving what he calls “important legislation.”

“Limiting the pool of qualified educators to political boundaries hampers many school districts’ opportunities for success. Districts should be able to perform broad searches to find leaders who will inspire teachers and encourage students to learn,” he said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said Thursday that voters would still have a voice in choosing a superintendent through elected school boards. A separate bill that will be considered this year proposes changing all school boards to elected positions. In some districts, board members are appointed.

Appointing superintendents would open the jobs to larger pools of candidates rather than limiting choices to people who live within a district, Tollison said. He also said seven of the last 10 school districts taken over by the state have had elected superintendents.

“I think it’s easier for appointed superintendents to make tough decisions,” Tollison said.

There are currently 55 elected superintendents in the state, which serve with elected school boards. The bill does not prohibit local boards from appointing current leaders.

The Senate has passed the bill several times in recent years; however the measure has not survived the House.

Hopson said he is hopeful the bill will be successful in the state’s House of Representatives.

“There have been different versions of the superintendent bill. Some have involved the boards of trustees. This bill involves only superintendent positions,” Hopson said.

Republican leaders say they hope an increased GOP majority in the House will improve chances of an elected superintendents’ bill passing this year.

Rep. Oscar Denton (D-Vicksburg) said he plans to support the bill when it comes up for vote in the House.

“As you well know, Vicksburg already has an appointed superintendent,” he said. “I think you have a bigger, more qualified pool to choose from when you appoint. I don’t have any problem with superintendents being appointed as long as the school board is elected.”

Gov. Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Board of Education and the Mississippi School Boards Association are among those supporting the change.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.