Saturday, February 24, 2018
Editorials

When it comes to school superintendents, appointment trumps election

Any Hernando County resident at least 18 years old and not a felon would be eligible to become school superintendent under a plan suggested by a School Board candidate Robert Neuhausen.

Turning the appointed head of the district into an elected position is part of Neuhausen's campaign platform for the District 4 School Board seat. In a written response to a Tampa Bay Times candidate questionnaire, he said it could be a cost savings. In a later interview with staff writer Danny Valentine, Neuhausen said an elected superintendent would increase accountability by making the head of the district directly answerable to the voters.

Not likely. Savings would be minimal, particularly in a district again confronting a multimillion-dollar deficit. An elected superintendent's salary, based on a complicated state formula tied to population, would be just under $121,000 annually in Hernando County, or $9,000 less than the salary negotiated by superintendent Bryan Blavatt. The district would be spared the cost of a search, but part of the board's directive to Blavatt at the time of his hiring was to identify and groom potential successors. Turning the job into an elected position will have made that assignment fruitless.

More importantly, public accountability already is ensured by electing School Board members who oversee the superintendent. Turning it into an election position dilutes that chain of command from voter to School Board to hired superintendent. Instead, the superintendent will act to appease voters every four years instead of performing at the pleasure of a board majority throughout his or her contract.

Accountability to the voters also is damaged by the partisan political shenanigans that frequently disenfranchise voters. In Pasco County's school superintendent race, for example, no Democratic Party candidate emerged. Now, only Republican voters, or 39 percent of the electorate, are eligible to decide the race because a politically motivated write-in candidate chose to close the Aug. 14 primary and disenfranchise 182,000 Democrats and independent voters.

The puny job requirements to be an elected superintendent candidate — age, residency, felony-free conviction record — are indicative of a system valuing politics over professionalism. Academic and supervisory experience (advanced degrees, experience in personnel and budgeting and familiarity with state education laws), not political ambition or name recognition, should be the top priority in choosing the person to lead the school district.

The Hernando County School District is facing a myriad of issues ranging from tight finances to boosting achievement to complying with ever- changing state mandates to replacing a retiring superintendent next summer. Administering district operations is too important to leave to political whims. Neuhausen and other School Board candidates can better serve the public by ensuring the most qualified individual available is leading the education of Hernando's schoolchildren.

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