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Miss. House Passes Accountability Bill for School Superintendents

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A bill is headed back to the Senate that would end the jobs of schools superintendents in districts that are low-performing.

The measure cleared the House by a vote of 106-14 Wednesday. The Senate can either accept the House changes or seek negotiations.

The House amended the bill, which seeks to hold district leaders accountable for student performance, to allow an elected superintendent who is removed from office to be replaced through another election. Previously, the bill had required an elected superintendent's position to convert to an appointed one.

The change was proposed by Rep. Willie Perkins, D-Greenwood, who said there's no information to support the assertion that appointed school superintendents are more successful than elected ones.

Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to require that all school boards become elected.

"When everybody is appointed, you possibly create a system of elitism," Frierson said. "If everybody is appointed, the superintendents and the school boards, where is the voice of the people?"

The bill is supported by state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds and the state Board of Education, who held a news conference earlier this week to urge support of the legislation. Some critics of the bill say two years may not be enough time to improve academic performance in a district.

The appointment, rather than election, of school superintendents is one of the board's 2008 legislative priorities. Of the about 14,500 school districts in the nation, only 147 are elected, according to the board. Alabama, Florida and Mississippi are the only states that elect superintendents.

Bounds has said 15 of the state's 152 districts meet the criteria set forth in the bill. Of those, 10 are appointed and five are elected.

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, said the Delta is one area of the state that would benefit from the bill since many of the low-performing districts are located in the region.

Bailey said studies show that poverty and crime are linked to education. He also said cronyism is one of the main reasons the problem persists. He said some school leaders won't fire an underperforming teacher because the teacher may have supported them in an election.

"Today I say let's rock the boat," Bailey said as he voiced support of the bill. "Let's get this thing moving."

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