House Committee supports elected state school officials

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – A divided House Education Committee backed an effort to make Louisiana's state education superintendent an elected job, rather than an appointed on.

Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, took two different approaches, and both advanced to the full House for debate with votes from the committee Wednesday.

Under one measure (House Bill 125), voters in the November statewide election would decide whether to make the position an elected one, instead of having the superintendent chosen by the 11 members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The constitutional amendment would bypass the desk of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who opposes making the job elected.

The other bill (House Bill 127) would make the change in law, without a vote of the people, but could be vetoed by the governor.

Supporters of an elected superintendent took specific aim at the current superintendent, John White, who was hired by BESE after Jindal hand-picked him for the job. Both teacher unions with whom White and BESE have clashed supported the bills.

Harrison said people should be given the choice to determine who guides the educational direction of the state. He said an elected superintendent would be more accountable to state residents, and he said about a dozen other states hold similar elections.

Opponents said most members of the state education board are elected, so they are accountable to the public for the person they hire as superintendent.

Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said BESE wouldn't necessarily be able to work well with a superintendent that the board doesn't hire.

“I've seen on a local level what happens when the board and the superintendent don't get along. It creates dysfunction and nothing gets accomplished. It makes no sense to have both an elected superintendent and an elected board,” she said.

The committee voted 13-4 for the bill that wouldn't go to the voters and 9-7 for the one that would.

A proposal to have an elected superintendent failed in the Senate last year.

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