School leadership should determine superintendent, not politics, says school board member

Note: The below appeared as a guest column by school board member, Lori Hershey in the Florida Times Union on October 27, 2019. To view the article in the original publication, click here.

While two small Florida counties progress toward better, more effective government, some of Jacksonville’s elected leadership want to set Duval back 50 years.

Marion and Escambia counties now allow their school boards to search nationally and appoint an experienced school superintendent capable of moving their districts forward. Leaders and voters from those counties saw the wisdom of moving from a locally elected superintendent.

While much of Florida is moving forward, some of Jacksonville’s political leadership seeks to infuse raw politics into the school superintendent selection process. Rep. Jason Fischer’s recently filed legislation provides a pathway back in time to an elected superintendent for Duval County.

It is noteworthy that Fischer’s idea to elect the superintendent didn’t come while he was on the School Board several years ago. It came after the current School Board and its appointed superintendent put forth a countywide facilities plan and a proposal for a referendum to fund that plan.

The proposed legislation calling for a referendum on an elected superintendent is a politically inspired, knee-jerk response to Duval’s proposal for increased local investment in rapidly decaying public school buildings.

Duval County residents wisely opted for an appointed school superintendent in 1969 after the district lost its accreditation. From that low point, and under an appointed superintendent, Duval is now proven to be one of the top performing urban school districts in the nation.

Duval, like many school districts, is a very large organization with a complex operation and vitally important mission. Every day, our schools must transport thousands of children, provide healthy meals and ensure students progress toward ever-increasing academic requirements.

Mental health and social support, college counseling, afterschool programs, arts programs, athletics and many other services are provided to support their development.

This is not work for a career politician or even a well-meaning political newcomer. Running a school district requires a leader with experience and ideas shaped in progressively responsible roles.

A track-record of school leadership success should be our rubric, not political campaign acumen.

To continue the path of progress on which we have traveled for five decades, the Duval delegation should quickly dismiss Fischer’s ill-conceived proposal and maintain the district’s appointed school superintendent.

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