Nine States To Choose Superintendents

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State superintendents' races are heating up in nine states.

Voters in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Wyoming will choose their next schools chiefs on Nov. 3. A total of 14 states choose their top education officials by popular election, while others allow governors or state school boards to appoint them.

The stakes for schools in such races often depends on the political dynamics in individual states and how much of a hand individual superintendents have in shaping education policy, said David Kysilko, the director of publications for the National Association of State Boards of Education in Alexandria, Va.

Once in office, however, elected state chiefs tend to have a higher profile than those who are appointed, Mr. Kysilko said. And like other elected officials, they must navigate the political tides that typically favor incumbents yet demand accountability from them as well, he added.

Heated Rhetoric

In one closely watched race, California voters will decide whether to re-elect Superintendent Delaine Eastin over challenger Gloria Matta Tuchman, a 1st grade teacher who earlier this year helped lead the successful statewide campaign to end most bilingual education. The race is officially nonpartisan, but Ms. Eastin is a Democrat and Ms. Tuchman is a Republican.

In another contest, incumbent Georgia schools chief Linda C. Schrenko, a Republican, has taken heat from Democratic challenger Joe Martin for her role in a recent state education department foul-up involving contract disputes and the stalled installation of software designed to ward off the year 2000 computer glitch in schools.

At an August news conference in Atlanta, Mr. Martin, a longtime Atlanta school board chairman, told local reporters that the software situation is "a train out of control. The conductor of the train is Linda Schrenko."

Ms. Schrenko, who has taken responsibility for the computer problems, responded by pointing out mishaps during Mr. Martin's tenure on the school board. Georgia's first female and first Republican superintendent has also been criticized for her role in public battles with the state school board earlier in her term--fights that resulted in the reconstitution of the board by Democratic Gov. Zell Miller in 1996. ("Ga. Governor Purges Board To End Bickering With Schrenko," Jan. 15, 1997.)

Ultimately, though, by zeroing in on such management concerns, both candidates are ignoring more pressing state education issues, argued Drew W. Allbritten, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Educators, the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

The teachers' union has chosen not to endorse either candidate because "we shouldn't be choosing between the lesser of two evils," Mr. Allbritten said. "I'm disturbed that teacher quality, student achievement, and capacity-building...aren't being discussed in the campaign."

Vol. 18, Issue 4, Page 17

Published in Print: September 30, 1998, as Nine States To Choose Superintendents
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