Q. Is it true that it
is getting harder and harder to hire and keep a good school superintendent?
and no. In our extremely urban, and extremely rural, school systems, that can
be a real headache. But in most districts, which are fairly suburban, there are
still more qualified people who want to be superintendents than there are
superintendent jobs available.
sheer power and influence of a district or community's school superintendent is
creating a call to switch the way we select them. There's a call to move over
from appointing that person, as our school boards do now, to electing that
person to the job. Along with the idea that it is more American to elect such
an important public servant comes the idea that it shouldn't be the exclusive
terrain of someone with an education degree.
since a superintendent's job is so important and the person is responsible for
the management of millions and millions of dollars, there's a push to open up
the superintendent's job to non-educators, too. That would include business
leaders in their prime, CPA's, retired military leaders, business people with
MBA's, and others who may not have a teaching certificate or classroom
experience, but would make or have demonstrated themselves to be excellent
chief executive officers.
about it: your school superintendent probably handles a budget that is bigger
than, or at least rivals, the size of your city government's budget. That's a
lot of contracts to give out and a lot of money to be made in your community.
Naturally, people in business and the professions don't want to get on the
supe's bad side for fear or losing a chance at that nice, cushy, school
business. It's a situation that opens itself up to fraud and corruption, which
is not good. But a regular election cycle would keep that person more open,
honest and accountable to the public.
way it is now, there are just too many ways for a school leader to juke the
system. Your "supe" may be responsible for the supervision of more employees
than most other businesses in your town. Most districts have PR staff with
budgets to spend, and that helps keep the local media in line, while other
governmental agencies don't have that kind of propaganda or protection power.
school jobs is a powerful position: you can do a lot of favors for people's
adult children, cousins and ne'er-do-well brothers-in-law by giving them jobs
or steering contracts their way. At some point, you can call those favors back
make a lot of money, too, allowing him or her to hobknob with the powers that
be at the local country club and be seen at charity events with the
silk-stocking set. That can make opposing them very intimidating for teachers
and citizens who probably work for the supes' friends in private industry or
the law, accounting, construction and other companies that do business with the
Not much. Elected school-board members, by and large, are politically ambitious
and know that rocking the boat will often cost a politician that job or the
next one. Others on school boards are dabblers who are the supes' friends, pretty
much rubber-stamping what he or she wants. For these reasons, you almost never see
conflict or even split votes on school boards, which is sad.
line: supes never get anywhere near the scrutiny, oversight and criticism that your
mayor, city council, county board and other government officials get, much less
a corporate CEO with a board and stockholders to answer to.
Then again, consider
all the things a superintendent has to manage. They can be beastly:
Dealing with federal mandates,
regulations and paperwork
Protecting children from physical,
emotional and sexual abuse
Violence, gangs, drug and alcohol abuse
in the schools
Rising transportation, utility and
Sexual harassment claims
Fire and safety issues
Pushy parents who don't understand the
School closings and the devastation to
the community that causes
Balancing the standards, values and
rights of all different kinds of families
Trying to change entrenched bureaucracies
Trying to get bond issues passed in an
iffy economy when most of the taxpayers' investment portfolios have shrunk
. . . and many
Would YOU like to
do all that? If you would, and you think you can do a better job, and you
really care about kids, then join the movement to change the way we select and
keep superintendents, and prepare yourself for this important, complex job.
Your country needs you!
See website of the American Association of School Administrators, www.aasa.org, and the book, The American School Superintendent: Leading
in an Age of Pressure, by Gene R. Carter and William C. Cunningham.