Changing elected state
superintendent doesn't make sense
SC Statehouse Report
NOV. 2, 2003 - The "in" thing in Columbia these days
is restructuring. But moving around executive deck chairs on the
Titanic may bring the kinds of real differences some seem to want.
the state may not experience fundamental, real change by moving
away from an elected state superintendent of education. Several
lawmakers have proposed making everyone from the state treasurer
and comptroller general to the adjutant general and agriculture
commissioner to become appointed positions who serve under the governor.
But the office of the state superintendent, currently held by a
Democrat, seems to be getting the most scrutiny by those in power,
Republicans. While their efforts may be bona fide, they're starting
to look a little partisan.
Just this week, bombastic GOP state Rep. John Graham Altman III,
who serves as a good barometer for using legislation to push partisan
positions, fired off a harangue over the state superintendent. He
said he would file a bill that would strip the superintendent of
"There are some people out there who think all we need to
do is raise taxes and give more money to educrats who drove the
car in the ditch," Altman told The Post and Courier. "I
want to give that power to the governor's office and give the people
the chance to elect a governor on the No. 1 issue in the state."
WORLD: The man in the uniform
FEEDBACK: Manufacturing woes
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Huh? Taking away the people's direct vote for state superintendent
would make the officeholder more accountable? That doesn't make
Richard Miller, executive director of the S.C. Education Association,
said he believed making the superintendent become a position that
answered to the governor would impede progress.
"I'm concerned about an appointed position," he said.
"It [could] become the extension of a politician - - a governor
or somebody else - - and is not as objective of a voice for the
needs of the people," he said.
With an elected superintendent, people know the official is directly
accountable to them. If they don't like the job the superintendent
is doing, voters can throw him or her out.
"It's the one direct way beyond the local school board that
local people continue to have some say-so about education politics
and practices in the state," Miller said.
There's an additional concern. If the state is doing better in
education, as it is these days, it doesn't make much sense to throw
out the leadership model that caused the state to be leading the
country in state achievement and improving teacher quality. It doesn't
make sense to throw away the elected position at a time when the
state has the highest average increase in SAT scores in the country.
In other words, if the structure of an elected superintendent ain't
broke, why fix it?
Interestingly, the current state superintendent doesn't have strong
feelings one way or the other about changing the power structure
Inez Tenenbaum, who is running for U.S. Senate, said she's seen
good elected and appointed state superintendents - - and bad ones
of each category too.
An advantage of keeping the system the same is the elected superintendent
has the freedom to pursue an education agenda that voters agreed
with at the polls, she said. An advantage of the appointed structure
is that it would make the governor accountable, even though he is
not necessarily elected only because of education.
"There's not a perfect way," Tenenbaum said. "I
say let the people decide - - put it on the ballot."
And that just might be the best way for the whole mess to be decided
- - and keep it out of the hands of politicians (and columnists).
The man in the uniform
This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:
10/27: Keep the focus on manufacturing
To the editor:
Many, many thanks for your article
in this Sunday's newspaper regarding the apparent lack of focus
on maintaining or recruiting manufacturing jobs for South Carolina...[In
the Pee Dee] we are about to begin investing $34 million in developing
a training facility that will sustain advanced manufacturing techniques
and processes and provide the training that will attract economic
development clients that want to continue a manufacturing presence
in the U.S. and want to be located close to a facility totally devoted
to sustaining their workforce needs.
As I listen to the Palmetto group talk about endowed chairs and
all of the manufacturing that will flow to the state once we become
a research hub, I am a little mystified when I look at the folks
being laid off and the ones just coming into the workforce. I am
a bit dismayed that anyone would say that protecting local manufacturing
jobs can't be the state's top business priority. The present state
of manufacturing is analogous to the state of agriculture in the
sixties. Huge changes are occurring but the key is to roll with
the changes that are occurring in manufacturing and provide an environment
that will be attractive to the new role manufacturing will play
in our economy.
In spite of the apparent lack of interest in this endeavor, we
are not giving. up. Jim Morris is exactly right, we can not walk
away from the history of manufacturing support we have built in
this state....There are manufacturers [in Switzerland and Germany]
who are very interested in having a U.S. presence. They use high
tech processes and employ fewer people than previously, but they
employ. The key for us is to realize that this is a new era in manufacturing
and we may have seen the passing of the large manufacturing entities
that employed large numbers of people only to be supplanted by an
increasing number of smaller manufacturers who employ fewer but
highly technically trained individuals. I hope you will write more
on this topic. Every little bit helps.
-- Name withheld by request, Florence, S.C.