A question on the May 20 Republican Primary ballot asked voters, “Do you feel the Cherokee County superintendent of schools should be an elected position?”
Nearly 74 percent of voters — 16,981 people — said yes, according to results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
Cherokee GOP Chairman Rick Davies said he supports the voice of the electorate being heard, but said the question needs a bit of clarification.
“I hope that people understand the role of the board members,” Davies said. “They are elected,
and (appointing a superintendent) is part of the role of the board members.”
Davies said voters get to decide on their board members, and the board members should be held accountable for their decisions.
“We elect the board members to be the voice of not only the children, but also of the people who put them into office,” Davies explained. “We have to put faith in the board members that they will do the right thing, not only for the children, but also for the residents that they represent.”
In 1992, an amendment to the Georgia Constitution made all school board seats elected positions and determined the school board would appoint its local superintendent, explained Angela Palm, director of policy and legislation for the Georgia School Boards Association.
“We were one of the organizations that led the battle to change it to the current way that it is,” Palm said. “Previously, the superintendent was an elected position ... It raised some issues.”
Palm said if superintendents were elected, rather than hired, each district’s choice would be limited to those who met the residency requirements.
“For any elected position, there’s a residency requirement. So, for a superintendent, they had to live in the school district for a certain length of time. If you’re looking for a new superintendent, that certainly limits the pool of candidates that you would be able to draw from,” Palm said.
Cherokee County’s last elected and first appointed superintendent was Shelby Craig ‘Corky’ Jones, who was replaced by Petruzielo in 1999.
Petruzielo came to Cherokee County from a position as the superintendent for a school district in Florida, and his contract with the local Board of Education has been continuously renewed since 1999.
Most recently, the school board voted in 2012 to renew Petruzielo’s contract through Aug. 20, 2015.
School Board member Rick Steiner, re-elected last week to serve another term, and all three newly elected school board members set to take office in January, agree the superintendent should be appointed and not elected.
Another issue, Palm said, is any time there is an election, there are choices made based on political motivation and not necessarily because it’s the best choice for students and the school district as a whole.
“Sometimes, very difficult decisions have to be made. The fact of how voters are going to respond to that would certainly come into play,” Palm explained. “The superintendent should be able to concentrate on the instruction aspects of education and make the recommendations to the school board, but they should be able to do that outside the political arena.”
Palm said the superintendent should be responsible to the board members, and the board members should be the ones responsible for representing voters.
“Let the superintendent concentrate on education,” Palm said.
Davies said the question on the May 20 ballot was submitted by a resident and approved by Republican Party leaders.
“The questions were submitted by different members in the community, and/or the party,” Davies explained. “They were voted on and approved by the executive committee for inclusion on the ballot. We actually had seven questions submitted and only two that made it on.”
Davies said in some states, superintendents are elected, and in others, including Georgia, superintendents are hired by the school board.
“I have not done a qualitative analysis to see if there’s any benefit, as far as test scores, or any benefit to student performance ... to determine which one method is better than the other,” Davies said, adding more research would be in order before he could come to a conclusion on the issue.