The Mercury News Weekend
Governor should appoint schools superintendent
California should join 38 other states in making its state superintendent of public schools an appointed post.
Legislation introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, seeks to do away with the elective position that has been embedded in the state Constitution since 1849. If approved by two-thirds of the Legislature, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 9 would be put before voters on a statewide ballot in 2024.
California has considerable work to do to improve its lagging K-12 scores. But for the past 28 years, the superintendent has been a former member of the Legislature looking to use the job as a steppingstone to higher office.
It would be refreshing for a governor to appoint an experienced education administrator to lead the California Department of Education.
The only significant educational experience current Superintendent Tony Thurmond had before first being elected in 2018 was as a member of the board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District and a member of the Assembly Education Committee. His tenure as superintendent has been marred by high-level turnover amid toxic-workplace allegations.
Californians deserve better from their superintendent, who oversees about 2,500 employees who collect data and provide support to more than 900 local school districts.
Eliminating the elected superintendent would acknowledge the reality that the governor and Legislature are the primary drivers of education policy and funding — and eliminate some of the splintered accountability.
Currently, the governor and the Legislature determine the state's education budget and work to enact the laws governing California's 10,000 schools and 6 million students.
The 11 members of the state Board of Education, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, sets academic standards. Another agency mostly under the governor's control, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, is charged with ensuring qualified educators.
Thurmond is serving his second four-year term and will be termed out in 2026. Under ACA 9, the governor would appoint a new superintendent who would then need to be confirmed by the Legislature and serve at the pleasure of the governor.
Teacher unions have opposed previous efforts to make it an appointed position, fearing that they could lose an advocate for their cause.
Thurmond opposes the bill, saying voters should have the right to decide who serves as the state superintendent of public instruction. But his failed leadership demonstrates exactly why the state doesn't need an elected superintendent.
The education of California's children should be one of the state's highest priorities. For decades the superintendent of public instruction has done little to improve California's lagging system. California would be better served by an experienced administrator to lead the Department of Education.