By Andrew Pillow
Governor Eric Holcomb wants to make the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction position an appointed position instead of an elected position. This idea is being met with resistance. Critics of the idea have implied that the only reason Holcomb is doing it, is to not be opposed by anyone in the Department of Education.
Let’s be clear: The timing of this initiative suggests that Eric Holcomb is probably only proposing this idea to eliminate potential ideological differences between the Governor’s administration and the Department of Education.
That doesn’t make it a bad idea.
Let’s name the elephant in the room: If Glenda Ritz and Mike Pence got along we would not be having this conversation. However, this idea still deserves to be examined on its own merits.
There are a few advantages that appointed superintendents have over elected ones.
Superintendents should be hired based on skill, not political savvy or charisma. Because we know voters don’t necessarily vote based on experience or credentials, elections don’t necessarily screen for the right traits. There is no guarantee that an appointment would either, but if you have a decent governor and a good school board, your chances of getting a qualified candidate are good.
Some people think having opposing powers in office is a good thing. Some feel it creates for a nice check and balance. This may be true in some areas of government, but education has not proven to be one of them.
Ideally you would like the governing administration and the superintendent to be on the same page. If they are not, you get infighting and blame. If that wasn’t bad enough often the political tug-o-war between the superintendent and the governing administration essentially halts progress for educational goals.
This is the aspect that probably most appeals to Holcomb. With Jennifer McCormick in office Holcomb likely won’t have to worry about this, but the disconnect between Pence and Ritz has made making the position an appointed one, education priority number one.
If an elected superintendent is ineffective, the voters have to wait out the duration of their term to replace them. An ineffective superintendent can be removed much faster if they are appointed as opposed to elected.
Voters still have a say
Voters still have a say on the superintendent position. The voters elect the people who make the appointments. Additionally, in most places voters also elect the school boards that hold the superintendent accountable. Voting directly for the position is still technically more direct, but it isn’t a whole lot different from how superintendents are chosen now. Voters just have to pay more attention to the other candidate’s education platforms.
Most places already appoint their superintendents. It makes political sense for Indiana to be one of them… even if the idea came about because of partisan disagreements.