Education Research Paper on Elected vs. Appointed Superintendents

Elected vs. Appointed Superintendents

Sensitive and politically fueled issues have been coming up for possible legislations. The issue on whether superintendents of education should be appointed or elected has been coming up annually. There have been efforts to make the position appointive. The efforts, however, have been gaining little traction due to opposition from the state association of superintendents. More so, there is a natural tendency for voters to prefer preserving their right to vote in leaders especially among local offices. According to Lynn West however, the mood has been changing. For example, some governors have been quoted saying they will talk about appointed school superintendents rather than relying on the ballot. The state superintendents’ association however, neither opposes nor supports the changes. This has prompted the current Union County superintendent to rely on the ballot or appointments. Thus, there have been arguments for and against elected versus appointed superintendent (West, 2016). The research paper, therefore, will focus on arguments for each side.

School Board Members often engage in a discussion in attempts to determine the principles of giving voters a fifth opportunity. The voters have the power to change how superintendent of a school should be selected. Schools have been rekindling the debate to determine whether they should switch from superintendent elected by popular votes to allowing board members to vote. Board members often speak in favor of putting relying on the ballot to settle the debate (Atterbury, 2017). They, however, allow residents to provide more input before they make the final conclusion. It is assumed that shifting to an appointed superintendent can ensure the districts are managed by qualified leaders guaranteeing the future.

Elected superintendents, however, should always respect the rights of the voters. Consequently, Board members should explore the superintendent selection process. Thus, the process of choosing a leader should be thorough rather than selecting people based on their social and economic influences. Andrew Atterbury (2017) claims that appointed superintendents can create additional problems. Consequently, the districts are likely to incur additional costs besides the moving expenses in attempts to guarantee the future. For example, they are likely to give financial compensations during terminations. As a result, the district is expected to start over and spend more in choosing new superintendents.

Lynn (2016), claims electing superintendents is the most obvious and direct choice of majority residents among district schools. History, however, shows that the populace often prefers superintendents for political reasons. They also prefer superintendents due to personal conflicts. Thus, superintendents do not mainly rely on academic and administrative credentials. Governors claim good school boards should embrace the good principles involved in appointing superintendents. School boards trying to micro-manage and limit superintendents’ powers, however, should not embrace the appointment process as it is likely to increase the likelihood of finding the best leaders for the position. Conversely, the district is likely to pay more in order to elect superintendents.

Persons opposing the process of electing superintendents claim that the chosen leaders often come from relatively small geographical areas. Thus, the school districts habitually have few or no qualified candidates. Other people criticize the process of electing superintendents as they believe the leaders always want to hang on to the powerful position. They also believe elected superintendents have the tendency to spend time campaigning rather than execute their duties and responsibilities as they run the school districts (Atterbury, 2017). Thus, voters can claim that they are likely to lose their representations with appointed superintendents. The voters, however, may prefer voting for school board members tasked in hiring the superintendents. Across the United States, nearly all states prefer appointed superintendents. Mississippi is among the few states that prefer elected superintendents as it has fifty five elected compared to the eighty nine appointed.

News reports, according to Lynn (2016), state that at least one legislator works on a bill requiring school superintendents to be appointed by 2019/2020. Lynn states that this is likely to provide a smooth transition as most local elected superintendents will be permitted to complete their terms in order to give school boards sufficient time to set policies to search and hire new superintendents. School boards, however, should also discuss their members. Although superintendents can be appointed, voters should still exercise their right to keep or terminate board members. It is, however, advisable to choose rather than elect some of the school board members. For example, one member is elected while four are appointed by the City aldermen in New Albany. The process is believed to assert that school policies are controlled by city officials. More so, it allows voters to determine how they want to choose their school boards. State legislatures can fail to act on the question of electing or appointing superintendents. As a result, the school boards should decide to make the superintendents’ positions appointive. For example, a petition can be signed by twenty percent of the qualified voters. Consequently, the school district should identify the necessity to elect and approve changes to appointive superintendents.

Based on all the arguments, appointed superintendents of education should be embraced in order to move forward. The process of appointing superintendents raises less political issues. More so, societal changes change peoples’ way of thinking about Central Office and Educational leaders. Across the United States, there are more than fourteen thousand school districts. One hundred and forty districts prefer electing their superintendents (Atterbury, 2017). Thus, only one percent of the school districts especially in Mississippi prefer to elect the superintendents with the rest relying on the ballot. The process of electing superintendents narrows down the pool of candidates. Candidates elected as superintendents are often required to live within the school district at the time of the election.

Small rural districts face difficulties in finding highly qualified candidates willing to run for the superintendent office. For example, at least thirteen school districts had uncontested races for the superintendent positions in 2011. Thus, the communities did not have choices as they only had one person living within the district and willing to run a campaign for the superintendent position (Howard, 2007). Most of the communities were rated by the Mississippi Accountability Rating System below successful. More so, the districts comprised of underperforming schools with at least one failing school being listed. Districts have been witnessing uncontested races for superintendents for years. In 2007, Mississippi recorded a school district that had no one to run for the superintendent position. This prompted the school board to appoint the retiring superintendent until a special election was held.

People acknowledge that elected superintendents are not accountable to the school board as the members can neither hire nor fire them. Direct accountability principle, therefore, has been lacking especially among failing schools with elected superintendents. School board members tend to blame the superintendents (Howard, 2007). Consequently, they blame the school board leaving the citizens confused as they cannot identify the party at fault. More so, ineffective elected superintendents cause students to lose years of quality education until another election can be held without guarantee that the new leaders will be different or effective. Students cannot recover from poor education for a period of at least four years.

As a result, school board members should promptly replace an elected superintendent deemed ineffective. For example, it is believed that elected superintendents often avoid advancing issues likely to improve the standards of education. They fear being defeated which leads to the students accessing poor education in the district. In some districts, the superintendents’ races have been described as threatening to the employees including the teachers. For example, some people running for the position of an elected superintendent threaten teachers claiming they will fire them if they fail to provide support. Thus, teachers support candidates neither skilled nor qualified to run for the superintendent position as they use fear and intimidation to win (Howard, 2007). Consequently, students suffer as they are exposed to poor education until a qualified, willing, and dedicated candidate can be elected.

In conclusion, societal changes should continue to change peoples’ way of thinking about Central Office and Educational leaders. Consequently, the need for growth can be identified. More so, educational leaders and communities can build trust and engage in personal culture as they confront social dominance and social justice. Instructional practices can also be transformed by engaging the school communities. Ultimately, societal changes should encourage educational leaders and communities to embrace the journey of raising awareness to develop equitable and excellent schools embracing professional developments.



Atterbury, A. (2017). Elected vs. Appointed Superintendent Discussion Rages on in Martin County. USA Today.

Howard, R. G. (2007). As Diversity Grows, So Must We. Educational Leadership, 64(6), 16-22.

West, L. (2016). Elected Vs. Appointed School Superintendents Topic of Interest Again. New Albany Gazette.