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SBOE: School Boards Can't Hire Just Anyone as Superintendent

The State Board of Education on Wednesday rejected a rule change that would have allowed school boards to hire anyone they wanted as superintendent — even if the candidate had no public education experience.

State Board of Education Vice Chair Thomas Ratliff leafs through binders at the meeting listing proposed changes to Texas textbooks in a SBOE meeting in Austin on Monday, October 20, 2014 .Textbook publishers were invited to meeting where public concerns regarding their textbooks were discussed.

The State Board of Education on Wednesday rejected a rule change that would have allowed school boards to hire anyone they wanted as superintendent — even if the candidate had no public education experience — as long as they had some kind of post-baccalaureate degree and intended to pursue superintendent certification. 

But the 15-member elected board still appears poised to drop a current requirement that would-be school district chiefs have classroom teaching experience. That's something representatives from several teacher groups said Wednesday was crucial to effectively running a school district.

The proposed rule change the board rejected on Wednesday, which was approved last month by the State Board for Educator Certification, contained two components.

One would have allowed people seeking superintendent certification to substitute three years of managerial experience in a public school district for a principal certificate, which requires two years of classroom experience. That means someone who had spent three years in an administrative role like chief financial officer could obtain superintendent certification.

The second, more controversial component of the rule change would have allowed anyone to become a superintendent without a principal certificate or managerial experience — at least for a three-year probationary period — if a school board hired them, they had a master’s, law or medical degree, and they planned to pursue superintendent certification.

While the board rejected both components Wednesday, the motion it approved in a preliminary 10-5 vote asked the educator certification board, which oversees the teaching profession in the state, to drop the second component of the rule change and send back the first. 

If approved, would-be superintendents no longer would have to have teaching experience.

That would be a huge mistake, representatives from groups like the Texas Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the Texas Association of Professional Educators told the board Wednesday.

Other teacher and school groups, including the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said they didn’t oppose swapping the principal certificate requirement for managerial experience. But they said they weren’t comfortable dropping all requirements for classroom experience.

The Texas Association of School Boards — which is often in alignment with teacher and school groups — emerged as an outlier Wednesday, with lobbyist Grover Campbell urging the board to accept the rule change in its entirety. He said it would expand the pool of quality superintendent applicants, and he painted it as an issue of local control and accountability. 

Other proponents of the rule change, including an assistant superintendent at the Deer Park school district near Houston, rejected the notion that superintendents should have teaching experience, saying they are supposed to function as CEOs. Pete Pape, who also serves on the Goose Creek school board, said he was familiar enough with the "financial, political and academic" issues required to perform well as superintendent, which he described as a personal career goal.

But Monty Exeter, a lobbyist for the Texas Association of Professional Educators, said superintendents make far more than financial decisions — also playing a key role in crafting education policy — and need to have direct experience with students.

Many of the education group representatives noted Wednesday that the state already has a waiver process that allows school boards to ask the state for permission to hire so-called "non-traditional" candidates, a request a Texas Education Agency staffer could not remember ever being denied. Six current superintendents were hired under that process, said Tim Regal, adding that nearly 40 have secured such waivers in the last decade. 

Education agency staff — with input from the educator certification board — helped devise the rejected rule change, a product of a periodic review of such policies that occurs every four years.

Regal explained Wednesday that there are qualified candidates who are essentially barred from ever being hired as superintendents unless they secure a principal certificate, forcing them to repeatedly seek waivers. The rule change — later expanded by the educator certification board to include the more controversial second component — was designed in part to break that cycle, he said.

As for the second component, educator certification board members described it last month as a pathway for school districts to hire smart business leaders who may improve financial efficiency. 

"You talk about Michael Dell, you talk about Bill Gates," said one certification board member, Leon Lean, who was on the winning side of a split 6-4 vote to approve the provision. "They didn't even finish college. They don't have degrees. But I guarantee you any district in the state of Texas would jump on those guys in a heartbeat."

State Board of Education members were more skeptical Wednesday. One member — Republican Pat Hardy of Fort Worth — said the requirements to become a superintendent should be more strict, not less. Another — Republican Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant, who is the board's vice chairman — pointed out that, unlike teachers, there is no shortage of school administrators.

The board will take a final vote on the rule change on Friday.

Vetoing a rule change proposed by the educator certification board is very rare. The last time that happened was more than a year ago, when the board asked the state to reconsider raising the minimum college GPA needed for prospective educators to enter certification programs. 

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Professional Educators, the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association and the Texas Association of School Boards are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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