State Rep. Paul Sherrell attempted to defend his bill, HB1954, that proposed allowing counties the option to elect school superintendents at a K-12 Subcommittee of Education hearing, but it failed due to lack of majority.
The bill failed with a vote of 4 yes and 4 no.
Sherrell explained to the committee that a lot of people have been asking him to support a bill that allows counties to elect school superintendents. He was adamant about just wanting to give a choice back to the people.
“I would like to make it very clear, we are not just trying to change it from appointed to elected,” said Sherrell. “This is an option bill, number one loud and clear. I know some people are trying to muddy the water on this, but this is an option bill that it would be for superintendents of schools may be continued on appointing like they are or either elected by the people in the county.”
His two main points were that some school boards will choose a superintendent with a certain agenda and that there are a lot of superintendents who will quit before their contract runs out and the taxpayers will have to foot the bill. He gave the example of Grundy County, which has had three superintendents since he was elected in 2016.
“We have a school board and a lot of times, most of the time, it seems to be about seven that is on the board and it seems to be that sometimes we have a superintendent that gets four people on his side and he gets done on whatever agenda he is trying to get done. We are here today to try and help the people,” said Sherrell. “I was told that an elected superintendent of schools will stay an average of 10 years. Now the appointed superintendent of schools will usually stay about two years. So if they have a four-year contract, they will be two years there that the taxpayers have to pick up the tab.”
Committee member Rep. John Ray Clemmons asked Sherrell how long the term would be if a county went back to electing superintendents. Sherrell said it would be a four-year term.
Said Clemmons, “So right now, if they don’t do their job or do it well or do something because they are under contract the board can claim breach of contract and they can terminate that individual and hire a new one to come and replace them. Do you have any concerns about losing the ability to fire someone or claim a breach of contract anywhere in that four-year period? Because you are going to be locked in to that term of years now in such a pivotal role in the county government.”
Committee member Rep. Mark White also had questions for Sherrell and asked if he was concerned that making it an election would exclude qualified people from other counties because an election would have to have local candidates. Sherrell said he was confident every county has someone who was qualified to be elected superintendent of schools.
White also questioned if an election and campaigning would distract the individuals running from the needs of the schools and the students.
“How do you feel about the disruption that may bring where you have a person campaigning and not actually in his office doing what needs to be done?” asked White.
“You and I and a lot of other people have to be elected so we have to get out and work to be elected so to come and do our job what we do here so what would be the difference in him or her versus us to be elected? We have to get out and work when maybe we need to be doing something else, but we have to get out and work to be elected. I don’t think it would be a hindrance,” said Sherrell.
State Sen. Janice Bowling has a companion bill set to be heard in the Senate on Wednesday. However, the fact the bill failed in a House subcommittee dooms it for this legislative session.