After reviewing a recent school board evaluation of the Houston County School superintendent, the board’s chairman said it might be time for the county to stop electing its superintendent.
Houston County School Superintendent David Sewell disagrees, saying his responsibility is to the public.
Chairman Vince Wade’s reasoning stems from a recent Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) evaluation that showed consistently low scores in six separate evaluations completed by board members.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize the relationship between an elected board and an elected superintendent, and in my opinion, it might be a good time to talk about that – appointed versus elected,” Wade said.
The board’s evaluation indicates Sewell’s job performance needs to improve. A separate evaluation from administrators under the superintendent’s direct supervision shows they believe he is meeting expectations. However, the variance between the two is a common one among the two surveyed groups.
Presently, Sewell is one of only 37 elected superintendents in Alabama.
“An elected superintendent is really accountable to no one, and you can say they’re accountable to the people and they’re accountable to the voters, but that’s every four years,” Wade said. “Can you put your child’s education on hold for four years?”
The election process remains in only two states: Alabama and Florida. Of Alabama’s 67 county districts, a majority – 55 percent – elect their superintendent. None of the state’s 71 city school systems elect the position.
“Just having that accountability in my opinion is a safeguard, because the community elects the board members,” Wade said. “If the board members are elected through the community and the community does their job and elects people they feel can make decisions as a board, as a group, for the benefit of the system, then I think that should alleviate the issue of elected versus appointed.”
Wade said it can be difficult to get things accomplished when the superintendent is not accountable to the board, and the board has little power to do anything if the superintendent fails to perform his duties.
Sewell disagreed with doing away with the county superintendent elections.
“Of course, I’m opposed to it. I like to vote on everything,” Sewell said. “I will say there are pros and cons to both sides. The biggest pro for an elected superintendent is the fact that you have a person from this area and are more accountable to the people of the area. Appointed superintendents don’t have roots here.
“I answer more phone calls from people in the community than appointed superintendents because I’m from here. If the people choose not to re-elect me, I’m not going away somewhere. I’m going back home to Cottonwood.”
There was movement in the state legislature during the most recent legislative session to do away with some county superintendent elections in the state, but it did not gain traction in the House of Representatives and the bill introduced in the Senate stalled.