Governance, Lottery Initiatives Seen Linked in Ga.

By Peter Schmidt — October 07, 1992 6 min read

For Gov. Zell Miller and several education groups in Georgia, the prospects for a major reform in local school governance are riding on a game of chance.

Georgia voters are set to decide two education-related ballot questions next month, and state officials are hoping that the more popular proposal--creation of a lottery with proceeds to the schools--will have long coattails.

The more controversial initiative, which faces substantial opposition at the local level, would require that district school superintendents be appointed by school boards.

Georgia currently is the strongest bastion of a dying Southern tradition, the popular election of local school chiefs.

The proposed constitutional amendment also would mandate the election of school board members, who in some parts of the state are appointed by other local officials.

Governor Miller has been pushing to link the lottery and governance proposals in voters’ minds. “Both amendments are critically important to the future of our children,’' he said in a press release.

The school-governance amendment will provide local school systems with “better professional leadership,’' the Governor argued, while the lottery amendment will help the schools while acknowledging that Georgians “don’t want or need to have their taxes raised.’'

Although the lottery is opposed by several church groups, observers say it has a solid shot at passing.

The governance initiative, by contrast, has no organized statewide opposition but is expected to meet significant grassroots resistance.

States Shifting to Appointment

Voters in 107 of Georgia’s 183 districts currently elect their school superintendents.

Georgia now accounts for 32 percent of the 338 elected local superintendents in the nation. Among the five other states with elected superintendents, only Mississippi, with 67, has consistently defeated state and local efforts to change to appointment.

Tennessee, with 79 elected superintendents, has passed legislation calling for all local superintendents to be appointed by 2000. Florida, with 45 elected superintendents, and Alabama, with 39, have been moving away from the practice through local action, while South Carolina has just one remaining elected superintendent.

A third of Georgia’s school systems already follow the pattern required under the proposed amendment, electing their board and appointing their superintendent.

Almost half of all districts elect both their superintendent and their board.

The remainder either appoint the board and elect the superintendent, appoint both, or have systems under which the superintendent is appointed by a part-appointed, part-elected board. Most board appointments are made by city councils or grand juries.

The governance amendment would require that all local school boards be elected and subsequently appoint their districts’ superintendents. Board members who have been appointed as of Dec. 31 would be allowed to continue in office until the end of next year, while any elected superintendent in office on Jan. 1, 1993, would be allowed to serve the remainder of his or her term.

Superintendents’ Group Neutral

Lining up behind the governance amendment are most of the state’s major education forces, including the Georgia Education Association, the Georgia School Boards Association, Superintendent of Schools Werner Rogers, and a business-education coalition called the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

One of the most likely opponents of the proposal, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, has declined to take a stand on the initiative, despite the fact that most of its members are elected.

“It was the judgment of our organization that that would be a divisive issue on which to take a position,’' said William M. Barr, the group’s executive director.

Backers of the initiative say their chances of success have been bolstered by the unwillingness of the superintendents’ association to oppose them and the fact the school boards’ association, which counts 35 appointed boards in its ranks, nonetheless supports the amendment.

But opponents of the initiative last week cautioned that the loyalties of state organizations based in Atlanta are a poor indicator of voter sentiment in other sections of the state.

They noted that local referendums to move from elected to appointed superintendents often have failed in the past, losing last year in Columbia, Oconee, and Bartow counties.

Moreover, a 1988 initiative to change the state superintendency of education from an elected to an appointed post lost resoundingly.

Improving School Quality?

Backers of the governance change argue that it would give community members direct input into determining who sits on their school boards. Board members in turn could search throughout the state or nation for a qualified superintendent, providing a far better selection than allowed by election, which requires that candidates live nearby.

Once in office, superintendents would not have to waste valuable time campaigning, proponents contend, but would be held continually accountable to school boards.

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has argued that appointing superintendents would take much of the politics and patronage out of school decisionmaking.

The shift also would help improve the quality of schools, the group said, noting that two-thirds of the state’s 1991 National Schools of Excellence came from the 76 systems with appointed superintendents.

But while there is no organized opposition to the governance shift, several local school officials said last week that the proposal would undermine local control, reduce diversity of school boards, and increase the politicization of education.

“This appears to be just another attempt at top-down management,’' said Clarence E. “Gene’’ Trammell, the superintendent of the Crawford County schools.

Julian T. Cope, the elected superintendent of the Jasper County schools, argued that the fact that board members in his district are appointed probably has enabled more minorities to serve than would have been able to through election.

Mr. Trammell also maintained that appointed superintendents continue to act politically. But instead of serving the electorate, he contended, appointed superintendents concentrate on pleasing the board.

Superintendent Don L. Griffith of the Decatur schools, who is appointed by an appointed board, said the election of school boards tends to draw candidates with political axes to grind.

Lottery Funding Focused

Still, discussion of the governance plan has been overshadowed by interest in the lottery initiative.

The lottery, which Governor Miller pledged to support during his 1990 gubernatorial campaign, is leading in statewide polls.

The lottery initiative and the legislation that put it on the ballot guarantee that the proceeds raised will be used to install air conditioning, computers, and laboratories in classrooms; to expand a state-funded voluntary pre-kindergarten program; and to increase the number of college scholarships.

Mr. Miller last month announced the creation of a scholarship program to provide students who maintain B averages with up to two years’ tuition at any public college or university, or a free education at any public technical institute. He added, however, that the program could only be funded if voters approved the lottery.

A version of this article appeared in the October 07, 1992 edition of Education Week as Governance, Lottery Initiatives Seen Linked in Ga.