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One Less Item on the Ballot

The Orange County Grand Jury has done the community a service by questioning whether the county superintendent of schools can best serve the public as an elected official.

We have long held the opinion that the post should be appointive, filled by a professional educator-administrator selected by the elected county school board.

And we strongly support the jury’s recommendation that the county Board of Education establish a blue-ribbon commission composed of business, civic and educational leaders to analyze the merits of an appointed superintendent. That should be done posthaste so that the issue can be presented to voters in the 1988 election.

The issue has nothing to do with the qualifications of Dr. Robert Peterson, the incumbent who was unopposed for another four-year term in the June 3 primary election. If the post were appointive, the school board might well decide to hire him.

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The issue has everything to do with establishing a procedure to help select the best possible administrator based on educational standards and merit rather than leaving it in the political arena where the only test is the ability to win an election.

We share the public’s natural reluctance to remove an office from the ballot. But under the circumstances, this post never should have been on the ballot in the first place. The county Department of Education is governed by an elective board. That board should be able to hire its administrator to carry out board policy. And it should be able to seek out the best qualified candidate anywhere in the state or nation.

That’s the procedure in all the local school districts in the county and in most major counties throughout the state. In Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, the school boards hire the superintendent. And San Bernardino, Alameda, Fresno and San Mateo counties are now considering the same approach.

As the grand jury urges, Orange County ought to be seriously studying that change, too.

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