Kids Before Politics Campaign Aims to Improve Walton County Schools
April 2, 2014 by SoWal Staff
The Walton County School District has voted to place a referendum on the August ballot that will give voters the opportunity to change the way the school superintendent is chosen. Currently the position is an elected one, the referendum changes the Position to an appointed one based on experience, education, and qualifications.
Please visit the website to learn more at www.kidsbeforepolitics.com.
Why should Walton County switch to a superintendent of schools who is appointed by the school board? All kids need a strong education so that they can succeed in school, go to college, or get great jobs after they graduate. Our current superintendent has announced her intention to retire at the end of her term. This provides us with a neutral opportunity to improve the structure of our school system for years to come – and make sure that our schools have strong, experienced, and accountable leadership for the future.
The best way to do this is to empower our elected school board to select the next superintendent of schools from a pool of qualified, talented leaders who are committed to the success of our students.
Appointing a superintendent of schools increases the superintendent’s accountability to taxpayers and to the community and raises the bar for the qualifications of the position.
But doesn’t every school district elect its superintendent? Of the 14,500 school districts in America, only about 150 – or one percent! – still elect their superintendents of schools. The rest are appointed. Most districts have transitioned away from elected superintendents of schools, because electing a superintendent of schools, in the 21st century, does not provide the accountability that parents and taxpayers deserve in our very competitive economy.
In addition, the day-to-day management of schools should not involve politics. Superintendents of schools must focus their full energy and effort – every single day – on running our schools, not running for office. After all, there is no Republican or Democratic way to educate children – which is one of the reasons that our school board elections are already nonpartisan.
How will the school board select a new superintendent?
The selection process will be decided by elected school board. Typically, the appointment of a superintendent involves a thorough search process, during which the community, teachers, and parents have an opportunity to interview potential candidates for the position.
The search process will attract individuals with a proven track record of successfully running school systems. And because of Florida’s robust Sunshine Laws, residents and taxpayers will be fully aware of, and involved in, the process of selecting the new superintendent.
How does this referendum make our school district more accountable to students, parents, taxpayers and teachers? With input from the community, the school board would set performance metrics for the superintendent of schools, and would hold that person accountable for results. For example, the school board can require that the new superintendent set specific guidelines for being responsive to parent feedback and concerns, and set specific goals for increasing student achievement.
In addition, this change will empower our elected school board to increase the qualifications for the position of superintendent. Right now, the only requirements to serve as superintendent is to be a resident of Walton County and hold a high school diploma.
Will this referendum have any impact on our teachers? An appointed superintendent will be in a much better position to partner with teachers to improve our schools and increase student learning. By changing the way we select our superintendent, we can remove some of the uncomfortable politics that exists in the teacher-superintendent relationship.
Will appointing a superintendent cost more money? Changing the way we choose our superintendent of schools will likely save us money. By empowering the elected school board to appoint a superintendent, Walton County can search for an experienced professional with budgeting expertise. The school board would be empowered to require the new superintendent to be more efficient in the spending of our tax dollars.
What happens if an appointed superintendent doesn’t do a good job? If an appointed superintendent doesn’t work out, the board can vote to terminate the superintendent and find someone who does a better job for Walton County’s kids. Right now, there is no reasonable process to terminate or remove a superintendent who is not doing a good job.
Doesn’t this change take away our right to vote? No! If anything, it gives voters more power, because the election of school board members will become more important. When we increase the responsibilities of the school board (by empowering these elected leaders to select our superintendent), more effort and energy will go into the election of these officials – who already have almost as much taxing authority as the Board of County Commissioners. This means we’ll likely see more competitive school board elections.
Who is behind this referendum? This effort is supported by a rare coalition of Republicans and Democrats; folks from North Walton and South Walton; parents of children and citizens without kids; and people from all backgrounds. This is a community-driven effort to bring greater accountability to our schools, so that all students can succeed.