School Board shuffle

Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
Alachua County has a right to demand a new school superintendent who will put teachers and their students first.
The evidence indicates that Mary Chambers is neither satisfied nor happy with her present position as superintendent of the Alachua County schools, and she has made it clear that she wants to move on.
Her last-minute rejection of Collier County's compensation package reveals much about her motives for wanting to leave Alachua County. The Alachua County school district cannot afford to have a leader whose attention is focused elsewhere.
During the past several months, her pursuit of employment in South Florida took her away from her duties for extended periods when decisive leadership was needed, and the district suffered because of it.
Teachers are leaving Alachua County's school system at an unprecedented rate: from March 5 through June 18 of this year, 77 teachers resigned for reasons other than retirement. As of June 2002, more than 50 teachers have retired this year, the highest number in more than 30 years.
As a citizen and voter, I am very concerned about the past and current situation regarding leadership in our school system. I feel that the best interests of the citizens of the district are not being served. Teachers should have received a step increase as promised last summer before 9/11, and zoning decisions should have already been made.
We need School Board members with vision who will place the interests of students and teachers first and who are not afraid to make tough appropriate decisions in a timely manner.
We need a school superintendent who has a vested interest in the position and Alachua County and who can lead full-time.
Alachua County is not getting the type of educational leadership it needs and deserves. Part of the problem is the way we choose our school superintendent.
The School Board of Alachua County has spent millions of dollars on national searches, compensation packages, buying out contracts and on lawsuits for appointed superintendents who have had to only satisfy three people to remain employed. Personally, I don't think the citizens of Alachua County have gotten their money's worth.
Most of the appointed school superintendents for Alachua County have been highly compensated mediocre officials at best, and two who were forced out left the school district in total disarray.
Alachua County can no longer afford that kind of educational leadership. Leading this school district is a full-time job that requires maximum commitment and sensitivity, especially during difficult times. We have not been getting it!
The time has come to evaluate how we choose our superintendent of schools. With the election of three new School Board members in September, the new board will have the opportunity to save money and increase accountability by placing an initiative on the next ballot that calls for the election of a school superintendent for Alachua County. The measure, if passed by the voters, will elevate the importance of parents, teachers and students, while providing for educational excellence in all district schools.
The arguments pro and con on the issue of elected versus appointed school superintendents are many. Out of 67 school districts in the state of Florida, 44 have elected school superintendents. There is a reason.
Other than Alachua County, all of the 23 counties that have appointed superintendents are rich coastal counties (18), or are located adjacent to one (4), and have tax bases that can support extravagant spending.
That is not the case for Alachua County. We are tax-poor despite a tax millage rate that ranks among the highest in the state. Also, having an elected superintendent of schools eliminates the need for conducting national searches at great expense, providing huge compensation packages, becoming involved in a bidding war for leadership services, buying out contracts and having individuals leave their post to pursue employment opportunities elsewhere before their term has expired.
The Alachua County experience with an appointed superintendent of schools for about 30 years has been unsatisfactory. Fortunately, there are many highly qualified committed educators in Alachua County who could serve the needs of our district if elected to the post of school superintendent.
We owe it to ourselves to elect School Board members who will take the necessary steps to restore educational leadership that is directly accountable to the voters of the district every four years.
However, this should not be a career position. Rather, there should be term limits similar to that for the Florida Legislature; then we as citizens will get the best of both worlds - maximum accountability and commitment.
Matt Coleman is a former drafting teacher at Buchholz High School.

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