MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s state superintendent would be selected by the governor and not the State Board of Education if the Legislature and voters approve a proposal by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur.
Collins’ House Bill 537 calls for a constitutional amendment voted on by the people to make the state superintendent an appointee of the governor.
Collins said Wednesday this was an idea she came up with last summer.
“It’s not for anybody or against anybody; it’s not even really about the governor,” she said. “Right now, we have a state board that appoints the superintendent, who then, in all practicality, is to supervise and direct them. Well, if (the superintendent) were to supervise or direct in any way that (the board) didn’t want to go, they could just fire him.”
“… If someone had the weight of the executive office and the authority, they could actually get done some things that they want to. Not overriding the board, working with the board.”
She said there are currently laws and initiatives from within the education department that aren’t being implemented.
In 2012, Collins sponsored a bill that required the State Department of Education to assign letter grades to each public school in the state. Its purpose was to give the public apples-to-apples comparisons of schools. It was supposed to be created during the 2013-14 school year, but hasn’t yet been developed.
Last month, Tommy Bice retired as state superintendent. The board meets today to select an interim superintendent and outline the search process for the next superintendent. Collins said she plans to attend the meeting.
Collins said she first took the legislation to Gov. Robert Bentley in early March, the same week Bice announced his retirement, but has been waiting to get support from the governor before filing the bill.
Bentley’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Ardis, said the governor was neutral on the bill. Because it calls for a constitutional amendment, Bentley won’t have to sign it.
If approved by lawmakers, it likely would be November before Alabamians voted on the amendment. Asked if her bill would impact the current search process, Collins said that remains to be seen.
State board member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, said she’s focused on finding a replacement for Bice. Asked if she was aware that Collins’ bill was being filed, Bell said, “You never know what’s coming from her.”
Last year, Collins moved to remove the board from the confirmation process of a new charter school commission after some board members delayed a confirmation vote and complained they hadn’t been involved in the selection process. Eventually, the board selected the commission members.
Board member Jeff Newman, R-Millport, said he first heard about Collins’ bill Tuesday and he opposes it. He said selecting a superintendent is the most important decision the board makes.
“We’re elected by the people we represent, and we’re accountable to them,” Newman said. “That should hold some weight.”
The governor is president of the state board but usually attends meetings only for major votes.
Board member Mary Scott Hunter, R-Huntsville, said Collins’ bill would put the governor’s office in the role of direct oversight of K-12 education.
“I can assure you, K-12 governance is consuming work and would crowd a governor’s bandwidth to the exclusion of other important issues,” Hunter said. “So, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Collins’ bill has been assigned to the House Education Policy Committee, which she chairs. Co-sponsors include Reps. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, and Phil Pettus, R-Greenhill.
Eight working days remain in the legislative session.