House says no to appointed school superintendents

JACKSON — Many significant education reforms are sailing toward final passage in the Mississippi Legislature, but one long-sought goal appears to have foundered.

House members yesterday voted 66-52 to reject a plan that could have forced the appointment of currently elected superintendents in 21 districts statewide.

Senate Bill 2199 had called for elected superintendents in school districts with fewer than 1,800 students to become appointed after 2016, barring a petition forcing a referendum. Larger districts among the 62 that elect superintendents would have kept electing superintendents barring a petition to force a vote on appointing the leaders.

House members had amended the original proposal to force a vote on appointees automatically, without petition, in every district with an elected superintendent. House-Senate negotiators discarded that plan to focus only on smaller districts, saying they wanted to expand the pool of potential superintendents in less-populated areas.

“The emphasis of the bill was to try to create as large a pool of applicants as possible in our smaller districts,” said Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford.

That decision, though, alienated some House members.

“Did you ever consider some of us Republicans voted for that bill because of the direct referendum?” asked Rep. Gary Staples, R-Laurel. “You lost me.”

House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, held the bill up on a procedural motion, opening the chance it could go back to conference or be reconsidered. In the Senate, where support for elected superintendents has been stronger, Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said he was willing to discuss the issue further.

“We offered them a compromise. I thought it was fair,” Tollison said.

Tollison said he would be willing to consider addressing districts one by one in future years, as lawmakers have begun to do with school district consolidation.

“We’ll keep trying. I do think school governance is an important part of education reform,” he said.

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