June 2022 - Chris Patricca

June 2022 - Chris Patricca
Posted on 06/03/2022
June 2022 - Chris Patricca

Do you want politics or professionalism? That is the question voters in Lee County will face in November when they decide whether to maintain an appointed professional as the Chief Executive Officer of the Lee County School District or take their chances with a politico if they choose to elect their children’s top schools chief.

Our local state delegation pushed and passed a bill to place the question on the November ballot, despite the fact that the Lee County School Board voted to oppose it and sent a letter detailing the many reasons why we believe that the Superintendency should remain an appointed position.

Of the 13,567 school districts in the nation, only 1% have elected superintendents. Of the 120 largest school districts in the nation, only 1 has an elected superintendent. Florida and Alabama are the only two states that allow for an elected superintendent. In Alabama, no school district with more than 2,500 students has an elected superintendent.

Of the 22 largest school districts in the State of Florida, only one has an elected superintendent. School districts like Escambia and Marion, with student populations from 30k – 40k, recently moved from elected to appointed superintendents. Both Districts were graded a “C” by the State before moving to the appointed superintendent model. The elected superintendent position in Florida is more common in smaller, rural districts with student populations below 40,000. Of the 29 school districts in Florida with an appointed superintendent, all of them are graded an “A” or “B” by the DOE. Thirteen districts in Florida are graded a “C” by the DOE; all have elected superintendents.

Our Superintendent, Dr. Christopher Bernier, was hired by the School board through an exhaustive national search, allowing for the highest degree of professionalism, expertise, and experience. I cannot remember a time when the superintendent in Lee County did not have a doctoral degree and decades in education and leadership experience. The only qualifications a candidate needs to run for the position of elected superintendent are to be free of felony convictions and to live in Lee County.

Elections are costly, time-consuming, and contentious. Winning a campaign in a county the size of Lee is akin to a full-time job. Appointed superintendents can devote all of their efforts to the school district. Elected superintendents must divert significant time to raising money and winning votes. Some believe that it is quite counterintuitive to choose a system that necessitates the politicization of public education over the performance of students in public schools. Others argue that it is oxymoronic to infuse partisan politics into an area of public service that thrives in an environment of nonpartisanship.

Appointment of a superintendent of schools is a near universal practice and sound business practice dictates that a governing board appoints or hires the chief executive officer of a company. Rosalind Brewer was not elected as the CEO of Walgreen’s. Ken Frazer worked his way up Merck for 19 years before being appointed as the company’s CEO. Citigroup’s CEO, Jane Fraser, did not have to campaign to become CEO because her experience, expertise, and strong leadership skills drove the Board of Directors to appoint her as such. The notion of private industry CEOs running for their jobs is ludicrous. Yet, that is what is being proposed for the School District, which educates nearly 100,000 students, manages a $2 billion budget, employs 13,000 people, is the second largest employer in the county, the single largest food service provider in the county, and one of the largest transportation providers in the nation.

While we all want someone who can manage the politics of a school district, consider whether you really want a politician as the chief executive officer in charge of our children’s education.

Chris Patricca sits on the Lee County School Board District 3. Chris writes this article in her individual capacity, not as a spokesperson for the Board.

Chris Patricca, District 3