Effort to reverse 25-year-old law change still a hot topic

J. H. Osborne • Feb 14, 2019 at 10:44 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Here it comes again: Some state lawmakers are seeking to change state law and revert to popularly elected school directors in Tennessee counties and cities that choose to do so.

It's a practice that ended a quarter of a century ago (by state law). Since 1992, school system directors (or superintendents) have been hired by locally elected boards of education. Ever since, an attempt to repeal that change has been a perennial topic at the Tennessee General Assembly — and never gets very far.

Sullivan County Commissioners are expected to discuss the pros and cons of switching back to elected directors or superintendents at the Sullivan County Commission's monthly work session tonight.

A resolution before the commission seeks to change state law to give local governments across the state the power to decide whether to have directors/superintendents elected by the public or hired by the local board of education.

Sponsors have indicated they will call for a vote on the proposal at the commission's regular meeting next week. That would require it to receive at least 18 votes. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had 12 sponsors and co-sponsors.

Sponsors: Commissioner Joyce Crosswhite, Commissioner Hershel Glover, Commissioner Dwight King

Co-Sponsors: Commissioner Todd Broughton, Commissioner Darlene Calton, Commissioner Michael Cole, Commissioner Terry Harkleroad, Commissioner Tony Leonard, Commissioner Hunter Locke, Commissioner Randy Morrell, Commissioner Angie Stanley, Commissioner Doug Wood.

The resolution requests the state "pass a law to allow Tennessee counties to have a local option to either elect or appoint a director of schools.”

It’s supporting points:

• “We recognize that a Director of Schools, whether approved by election or chosen by appointment, becomes Chief Executive Officer of a school district.”

• "We support Tennessee counties being allowed a local option to re-establish the elected office of Director of Schools or continue Board of Education appointment.”

• "This provision allowing voters to choose to elect or appoint a director of schools is to be determined through a local election in November 2020.”

• "We ascertain that Directors of School can move the education dynamic closer to the interests and goals of a community when the electorate makes the choice to elect or appoint.”

• "We view this choice as a distinct way to embellish long-term planning through the process of allowing Tennessee counties the choice to elect or allow Board of Education appointment of a director as determined by popular vote."

If approved, it would mean the commission "requests a state law be passed to allow each Tennessee county electorate, as it so chooses, the option to elect or appoint a Director of Schools."

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to have a work session (no votes can be taken) beginning at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.