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Oregon lawmakers seek to make the school superintendent into a gubernatorial appointment

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February 16, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Salem: OREGON: John Kitzhaber wants to appoint Oregon's Superintendent of Schools, and he may get his way. The position is currently popularly elected by Oregon's voters, but advocates of changing that are gaining traction.[1]

SB 552 would actually give the title of 'State Superintendent' to the current Governor of Oregon and allow the governor to appoint a deputy who would take on the duties of overseeing the Department of Education and championing education initiatives in Oregon. In addition to the bill's sponsors and Governor Kitzhaber, the idea has found support from the Oregon Business Association and among local school superintendents.

On the other side are the state's teachers and Board of Education, chaired by current Superintendent Susan Castillo. While she was widely praised at the bill's first hearing yesterday, even some of those admire her accomplishments are in favor of making her position in a gubernatorial appointment. Castillo herself was absent from the legislative hearing, the first of many if the bill proceeds.

State Senator Chris Edwards, the Democrat who is the bill's chief sponsor, believes that improved education outcomes require greater authority in the superintendency – namely that of the highest office in the state. While he testified that, "Nobody can grab the attention of the media, use the bully pulpit or advance an agenda like the governor,” a fellow lawmaker cautioned people to temper their expectations.

Mark Hass, who ran yesterday's hearing as Chair of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, indicated his support for the bill but also pointed out that the actual office of the Superintendent lacks much authority, being unable to levy fines or alter rules.

SB 552 does lay out qualifications for the office, requiring the governor to appoint someone with five years experience in educational administration and allowing the governor to set the salary. The Senate would confirm the appointee and the Board of Education would still have some role to play in recommending candidates and pushing for the removal of an appointee. Should the bill pass, Superintendent Castillo will complete her term, at which time the elected office will disappear.