All 33 school districts in Orange County are run by a district superintendent--a professional educator-administrator hired by the elected school board to efficiently run the district and carry out board policies. With one exception, the departments of education in all the major counties in the state fill the superintendent’s post the same way. The exception is Orange County, where the selection is still a political, not a professional, process.
On Nov. 8, Orange County voters will have an opportunity to switch to a more efficient and conventional approach of selecting a top administrator by making the office of county superintendent of schools an appointive one.
In recent years, various community leaders, special citizen committees and county grand juries have studied--and then strongly supported--changing the post from elective to appointive. We, too, urge voters to take the school superintendent’s post out of politics and adopt the appointive system that works so well everywhere else.
Voters usually are reluctant to give up their right to choose or reject public officials. We generally share that reluctance. But not every public post is best filled by election. A local school superintendent falls into that category. In this case, the issue is not elected representation. Voters already have that in the school board trustees, whom they elect to the county Board of Education.
What is at issue in Measure A is the county Department of Education’s ability to seek the best qualified professional available, rather than running the risk of being stuck with someone whose only skills may lie in field of political fund-raising. Even more potentially damaging is the risk of someone’s being elected who not only lacks professional ability and experience but also is so out of step with the elected board that the effectiveness of both are reduced, along with the quality of education.
Voters saw an example of how that could happen last month when hundreds of handicapped students were stranded without transportation to school because of financial problems involving the school bus contract. There was a woeful lack of communication between the superintendent and the governing board, which should have been kept much better informed of the developing crisis.
An appointed school superintendent would no doubt have worked more closely with the board members because of greater accountability to trustees who appointed him, and the transportation breakdown might have been lessened or possibly even avoided. The present arrangement of electing a school board and superintendent, both of whom can set their own--and possibly conflicting--policy, is fraught with potential problems.
Measure A, the only countywide measure on the November ballot, simply asks: Shall the Orange County Superintendent of Schools be elected or appointed?
For the county, the best answer is appointed.