Officials should think twice about electing director of schools

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By Jennifer Caldwell

In my nearly five years as a reporter I have learned a number of do’s and don’ts.

For instance, I know when my name is going on that by line I better get it right.  Or when I am covering a meeting it is my job to listen and objectively report what is going on.

I have also learned that while most of the time I am able to keep my opinions in check, there are just some discussions I find myself wanting to jump out of my seat and say “Are you kidding me?”

That inner conflict of reporter versus citizen flared up most recently at this week’s commission meeting when a resolution requesting counties be allowed to return to the practice of electing school superintendents was considered.

The resolution was passed unanimously, with several commissioners voicing a desire to give the power back to the people.

I am not against the notion of giving citizens a choice.  In fact, I take my right and privilege to vote very seriously.  But, I am willing to concede that there are some issues that should not be placed on the ballot. An elected director of schools is one of them.

With a history of Tennessee schools performing at a lower level than others across the country, why would we return to a practice that did not seem to work?

It seems that by placing the power to choose the director of schools back in the hands of the people, we are effectively cutting our noses off to spite our own faces.

We argue that we want a director who will make decisions about education in the best interest of the children, but how can that be done if it becomes a position that is earned not by how many ways they improve the system but by how many political friends they are able to make?

In addition to creating political pressure for the position, electing a director of schools would also reduce the pool of qualified candidates for the job.  Since being placed on the ballot would require candidates to reside within the confines of the county, better qualified applicants from outside would be completely eliminated.

My comments may lead some to believe I am opposed to hiring a hometown person to be the director of schools.  But, that assumption would be incorrect.  

Simply stated, I would argue as a county our desire to see our children succeed in and out of the classroom should override our need to see someone we have known from birth elected.

We elect school board members who have sworn to give their all to ensuring our schools are the best they can be.  If they cannot be trusted to spend the time and energy required to choose the best director for our school system, maybe we should take that into consideration when election time rolls around.