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Growing Friction Seen Between Superintendents, Boards

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New Orleans--School-district superintendents are growing less fond of their employers--local school boards--and are increasingly prone to quit their jobs over disagreements with a board, according to a study presented at the American Association of School Administrators' (aasa) annual convention held here last week.

Luvern L. Cunningham, professor of educational administration at Ohio State University and co-author of the study, said the November 1981 survey of more than 1,300 school-district superintendents also suggested administrators were more concerned about financial and managerial problems and less concerned about social matters, such as affirmative action and student rights, than were their counterparts of a decade ago.

The survey of school superintendents is the latest in a series of studies that have been sponsored by the aasa since 1923, Mr. Cunningham said. The longitudinal nature of the study, he added, gives school superintendents the distinction of being "one of the few professional groups in America with such extensive comparative data."

Fifteen percent of the superintendents responding to the survey cited conflicts with their former school board and the growing tendency of the board to be uncooperative as key reasons they left their previous jobs for their current positions, Mr. Cunningham said.

The superintendents also listed the caliber of individuals assigned to or removed from the school boards and the frequency of attacks on their management by board members among their top five reasons in deciding whether or not to leave their current positions.

Condition of Relations

In 1971, these last two reasons for quitting ranked 12th and 16th respectively on the superintendents' lists. The "condition of school-board and administrative relations" was ranked 26th as a reason for wanting to leave 10 years ago.

Joseph Hentges, who collaborated on the study with Mr. Cunningham, said in an interview last week that the latest survey also revealed several new aspects of the superintendency--as perceived by superintendents--that offer potential for even greater conflict between the officers and their boards.

More than 80 percent of superintendents said they controlled their school board's agenda;

More than 72 percent said they take the lead for policy development in their school district;

More than 90 percent of the superintendents added that they considered themselves as their school board's main source of information.

"School boards, by law, are generally directed to devise school-district policy, and the superintendent is supposed to implement it," Mr. Hentges said. "Our concern is that if there is no provision for effective and ongoing school-board participation in policy development, the work of the school board will be predominantly controlled by the superintendent, resulting in resentment and increasing the potential for conflict."

One of the more surprising of the study's findings,' according to Mr. Cunningham, was that superintendents were devoting less attention to traditional "equity" issues and were devoting more of their time to issues of finance and declining resources.

"Changes in values and social norms and social-cultural issues, such as race relations and desegregation, were listed in the top 18 major issues and challenges facing superintendents in 1971," he said. "This year they dropped out of the top 20 completely."

Mr. Cunningham added that he hoped the shift did not reflect a lack of commitment on such topics, but a re-direction of attention toward fiscal problems.

Financial issues, as in 1971, remained the main challenge to school superintendents in 1981.

That was not surprising, according to Mr. Hentges, because superintendents said adequate knowledge of financial matters was the primary expectation school boards had of them. Inadequate knowledge of financial matters, moreover, was the factor that superintendents said most inhibited their effectiveness.

The study also found that:

Two-thirds of the male superintendents and three-fourths of the female superintendents found their jobs fulfilling. But only 57 percent of all superintendents said they would select a similar position again, down from 71 percent in 1971.

Survey respondents worked an average of 55.2 hours per week and spent more than two evenings per week and two Saturdays per month on their jobs.

The percentage of superintendents holding doctoral degrees more than doubled in the last 10 years, from 15 percent in 1971 to 38 percent in 1981.

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