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Appointed or Elected?

January 15, 2013

Janet Barresi’s opponent in 2010, Sen. Susan Paddack, is proposing that Oklahoma eliminate the elected position of state superintendent. The Tulsa World agrees, and goes a step more, suggesting that we consider making many of the elected statewide positions appointed. This is a long-overdue idea, though I wish it had come from someone other than Paddack. Yes, she is one of the legislators I respect the most, but following the campaign, she’s just not the best champion for the cause.

Public policy should be situational, meeting the needs of citizens as they arise. The structures supporting the services government provides, however, should be rooted with a deeper sense of permanency. When it comes to how the state provides services to public education, we should look periodically at the bureaucracy and see if it can be tweaked.

In fact, the legislature did this in 2011. When holdover board members questioned some of Barresi’s early hires and decisions, lawmakers quickly changed the law to allow the governor to remove them from office and replace them with new appointments. Our elected officials created a counterbalance to the state superintendent position that could be replaced at the governor’s whim.

Many have speculated that the governor’s influence over her hand-picked board ensured the eventual passage of A-F Report Cards in October. And that Phyllis Hudecki, her education secretary, is going to take a more active role with stakeholders in the implementation of future reforms.

Paddack’s suggestion cuts out the middle. We’ve had state superintendents and governors of opposite parties in the past. We’ve had them in the same party, but not on the same page before as well. I’m not in favor of changing the structure of governance just because of people who hold office don’t always play nice. This needs to be about what we honestly think is the best way to govern.

I’ve had conversations for ten years with friends, family, and colleagues about this. I’ve always been on the side of reducing the number of statewide positions. (I’d also be in favor of a unicameral legislature.) I want Oklahoma’s state superintendent to be an appointed position, but not because of the person who holds the office now. Having a state superintendent and a secretary of education seems redundant.

The governor is going to influence education policy, and this would make that influence more direct. This change (along with other statewide offices) would also strengthen the executive branch in the state. Again, this has nothing to do with the person in the governor’s mansion – it’s just my preference for state government.

Paddack is unlikely to have much support for her measure. While this is unfortunate, I hope still that the legislature gives the idea some discussion.

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  1. LIsa Muller
    January 15, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    With the 2011 change in the way state board of education terms are structured, I am opposed to making the additional change to an appointed state superintendent. Doing so would create a situation in which the governor, upon election, would appoint the entire state board and the superintendent. That consolidates too much of the power owner public education. I would be interested in considering a switch to elected board members and an appointed superintendent. That would mimic the format for selecting local boards of education and superintendents and still provide voters with a direct say in the process.

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  2. Russell
    January 17, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I’d have to agree with Lisa. While having a secretary of education and a state superintendent does seem redundant, appointing board members as well as the superintendent would do nothing but consolidate power in few hands. Government should run from the bottom up, not the top down, so an elected board, representing the people whose children are actually affected, would seem the ideal way to go, especially if the board had the authority to somehow stymie the superintendent if she/he went overboard. There needs to be a way to remove the superintendent from office if she/he violates or disregards legislative directives (as the current one does). Perhaps an elected board could do that.

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