Posted on

Requirement change possible for school chiefs

Indiana legislators approved a bill last week that would allow school boards to hire a district superintendent with less qualifications than the current standards.
Superintendents, if Gov. Mike Pence approves the measure, will no longer be required to have an Indiana superintendent’s or teacher’s license. The bill, however, would require them to have a master’s degree.
Supporters say the change will give the state’s nearly 300 local school boards more flexibility to hire a business leader or someone else they believe would best fill their needs for a top administrator.
The move has many opponents who say standards will be lowered with superintendents having no classroom experience.
Area superintendents Dr. Neyland Clark (South Harrison) and Steve Morris (Lanesville) do not support the change.
‘The superintendent’s position has a unique skill set based on knowledge in curriculum, finance, instruction, transportation, leadership, management, human resources and accountability,’ Morris said. ‘The position has been based upon specialized training and licensing standards that ensured qualifications in meeting the demands of the job. In my specific case, I spent two years of additional class work and $10,000 in obtaining a superintendent’s license.’
Morris said the common theme among supporters is that school boards need the flexibility to hire a business person to run their schools.
‘This theme ignores the reality that public school education K-12 is a nonprofit entity with little flexibility and freedom compared to the business world,’ Morris said. ‘In my message to our legislators, I communicated that I have a brother and brother-in-law that are very successful business owners with tremendous leadership skills but do not have the professional knowledge or skill set of the educational profession as I do not in their business profession. Leadership is leadership, but the goals, orientation, control and motive are vastly different between business and education.’
Clark said he was very much opposed to the legislation and hopes it won’t hurt the schools.
‘We require licenses for barbers and plumbers but for some reason it was OK to lessen the requirements for superintendents,’ he said. ‘It is equal to dumbing down the curriculum.’
Morris said a school board can hire a non-licensed superintendent already by obtaining a waiver from the Dept. of Education.
‘This proposed legislation is one more attack on the dismantling of public education in the guise of providing more local control,’ he said.
Donnie Hussung, Lanesville school board president, said he has mixed feelings about the issue but added that, at least on the surface, the more flexibility for school boards is appealing.
‘This makes sense as long as local boards understand their mission and use this new flexibility to find the candidate most suited for their particular need,’ he said. ‘I also understand the concern expressed by professional educators about removing all requirements regarding experience in the field. The system of education we have in Indiana has developed over years of status quo practice. The ways of the outside world usually have problems fitting into the world of education where we are dealing not with the efficient production and sale of widgets, but with the development of young people into our future leaders.’
Hussung said the law only removes the requirements and gives a level of flexibility to boards to develop a search for the best-qualified candidate for their corporation; it doesn’t say a board can no longer hire someone with education experience but that they no longer have to.
‘The true test of this law will come with how local boards use this flexibility,’ he said. ‘As long as local boards stay true to their mission and use this as a tool to help them search for the most highly qualified individual for their corporation and considers the needs of all the stakeholders in their respective corporation, the law should be helpful tool.’
The House voted 55-40 to approve the bill after it only cleared the Senate following a tie-breaking vote in favor by Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann.