OUR VIEW: Local school board superintendents should be hired, not elected

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2024

In a few months, voters will head to the ballot box to choose the next superintendent of the Chambers County School District. Considering we’re right in the middle of a major consolidation of LaFayette High School and Valley High School, the election figures to draw a lot of interest in the weeks ahead.

We’d argue that there’s a better way to pick a new leader for our local school system.

Depending on which county you live in, some Alabama superintendents are elected, and others are hired by an elected school board. In Chambers County, we’re one of a minority of Alabama counties that elect the school board AND the superintendent. All city school systems in Alabama, like Lanett, hire their superintendent. 

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Nationwide, most school systems hire a superintendent. There’s a reason for that. It’s a better way of doing it. 

An elected superintendent turns into a politician. They declare a party, just like if they were running for a seat in the state senate. They take place in a political primary.  They place campaign signs, may choose to accept campaign donations and ultimately try to be the winner of a popularity contest.

And strangely, the vast majority of the people they ultimately represent — kindergarten through high school students — do not vote, nor even know who they are. 

Electing a superintendent severely limits the authority of the position. A superintendent should be an education leader with a strong backbone who always stands up for what’s right, even if it’s unpopular.  

Instead of just doing what’s right, it’s only human for an elected superintendent to consider the ramifications of a big decision with voters. 

Holding an election also greatly limits the radius of a search for a new superintendent.

Think about it this way. State law does not dictate that a superintendent candidate live in the county they represent, but it’s rational that only candidates within a 30-minute to hour driving distance are likely to sign up as candidates. Therefore, the pool of candidates is greatly reduced. Our current superintendent election has three candidates. 

If the elected school board was in charge of hiring a superintendent, they could conduct a national search, where dozens, if not hundreds of applicants could throw their name in the hat.  For instance, neighboring county, Troup County, in Georgia, held a national search for its superintendent seat in 2019. The man they hired, Brian Shumate, was working in Oregon when selected. The other finalists were from Alabama and Florida. 

We mean no disrespect to current Superintendent Casey Chambley or his opponents Sharon Weldon and Winford Ashmore. One of those three might be the best candidate regardless, even if a national search was held.

But if we really want what’s best for the children of Chambers County, how can we say that selecting from a pool of three people is better than choosing from a much larger pool?

No matter who was selected, a hired superintendent would then answer directly to the elected school board. Voters would hold the school board accountable, and then the board would hold the superintendent accountable.

That would give the board the authority to hire and fire the superintendent. If a superintendent did something egregious, there’d be no reason to wait four years — the board could decide to move on immediately. 

There are two ways to get this changed — legislative action or a local vote. A bill died in the state legislature a few years ago that would’ve mandated hired superintendents statewide. 

While we’d be in favor of that legislation, a local vote would be the best option, one that would allow Chambers County residents to have the final say.

The last place we need politics intervening is in our schools.

We thank all three of our current candidates for courageously stepping into the public eye to attempt to take on this role, arguably at the most difficult point in the position’s history. Would you want to be the person to oversee this consolidation effort for the next four years? We’re guessing most of you are saying no. 

Chambley, Weldon and Ashmore are all willing to take this on, accept the challenges, opportunities and criticism that come with it, and try to do what’s best for our community. We applaud them for that.

But let’s make this the last time we elect a superintendent in Chambers County. 

It’s an old practice that is outdated and severely limits the search for an education leader in our school system. 

We know that people dislike change, but just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it should remain that way. 

After this election is over, lets put the campaign signs away for good, change the way superintendent elections are held locally, put the trust and responsibility on our school board and expect them to make the best hire. And when they don’t, let’s hold them accountable.

It’s 2024. It’s time for change.