Two S.C. superintendents of education from different political parties are urging voters to stop voting for them, or anyone else who might run for the office in the future.
Republican Molly Spearman of Saluda, the state superintendent of education, and former Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, a Lexington Democrat, are joining forces ahead of Election Day, next Tuesday. Both are asking voters to approve a referendum that will allow the governor to name the head of S.C.’s education department, starting in 2024.
The post currently is an elected position, and Spearman is running for re-election on the same ballot as the constitutional amendment to end elections for her job.
Both Spearman and Tenenbaum support ending the election of superintendents and appear in a video from the S.C. Chamber of Commerce encouraging a “yes” vote on the amendment. The video also includes footage of then-Gov. Nikki Haley, saying South Carolina’s governor should be able to fill the position.
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State chamber chief executive Ted Pitts, a former Haley aide, said the state’s business leaders are focused on education issues because they need a well-prepared workforce and want for accountability for schools to be centralized in one office — the governor’s.
“From the business perspective, the CEO is ultimately responsible,” Pitts said. “This would provide for a shared vision between the education superintendent and the governor.”
Tenenbaum, who was the state’s superintendent from 1999 to 2007, said ending elections would allow the superintendent to focus full time on education rather than politics.
“There are a number of highly qualified career educators who would make great superintendents but didn’t want to subject themselves to the rough and tumble of politics,” Tenenbaum said.
Spearman also supports a change she says will require the schools chief to have relevant educational and management experience.
“The governor’s race is what people look to,” when deciding how to vote, not the schools superintendent, Spearman said. “This would ensure education has to be on the governor’s platform.”
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster also has endorsed the proposal.
However, his Democratic challenger, state Rep. James Smith, opposes it, saying there is no assurance a governor would not name a political crony or hack to the position.