Appointing state school chief worth consideration
Monday, November 25, 2013 10:00 AM
Exploring the idea of making the state Superintendent of Public Instruction an appointed position should be considered by the General Assembly.
It appears as if the rift between Glenda Ritz, the state's top education official and a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Mike Pence isn't going to be patched anytime soon.
Twenty-five years ago, a proposal to have the state superintendent appointed by the governor, instead of elected, fell only one vote short of passing in the Indiana General Assembly.
"I supported the measure for obvious reasons. In the voter's mind, the governor is held responsible for the general condition of the state, including education," Louis Mahern, a former state senator, wrote recently on indianaforefront.com, a website for political comment.
Mahern wrote that in two-thirds of the states, the governor appoints the top education official, improving the chance that they will pull in the same direction.
Back in the 1980s, "There were discussions about what a mess it would be if the governor and the superintendent had serious disagreements over education policy," Mahern added. "We have now seen what having an elected superintendent with a different take on things from the governor means. But try having a rational discussion about that now."
This is a good time to discuss a better way of governing Indiana schools.
It can be argued that electing the state superintendent results in more accountability. But what it can create is divided authority, setting up the kind of standoff we're seeing now between the superintendent and the governor. The uncertainty and gridlock make Indiana students and teachers the big losers.
Hoosiers should be able to know exactly who to praise or blame for the condition of Indiana schools - and that should be the governor.
Given our recent history, adding to the governor's power might seem to favor Republicans. But Democrats served as Indiana governors from 1989-2004, and it's impossible to forecast what Hoosier voters might do in the future. After all, just a little more than a year ago, few would have predicted that Glenda Ritz would win election as state superintendent.
KPC new service contributed information for this editorial