If there ever was a time to make the case for an appointed superintendent of schools, it was last year. Not this year.

Last year the performance of Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson had deteriorated from incompetent to alarming to dangerous. Employees were arrested, students were endangered, a grand jury found she violated her oath of office and parents were collecting petitions to have the Governor remove her.

Some exasperated citizens had enough. Why, they asked, should we have to wait for a Tallahassee politician to rid us of a bad superintendent?

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So this year the school board is asked to place a referendum for an appointed superintendent on the ballot. The advocates first insisted on the March presidential preference primary ballot. If the referendum passes in March, a superintendent won’t be elected in November.

That’s the objective.

There are 25,995 Democrats eligible to vote in the March Democratic primary but there are also 78,864 Republicans and 29,767 independents in Okaloosa County.

Almost the only reason for the March primary will be for Democrats to express their preference for their candidate for President. Almost the only voters will be registered Democrats. Nearly as lopsided in the other direction will be the August primary, when Republicans will vote in party primaries but Democrats will have few if any contests and far lower turnout.

The school board can certainly ask voters if they no longer want an elected superintendent. But it’s a big decision. The issue should be debated and decided by the largest number of voters. That’s a general election, not a party primary.

Proponents say appointing the superintendent will eliminate politics. I wish that were true. Yes, an elected superintendent runs for office, keeps a weather eye on the windsock of public opinion and has to earn voter approval, but an appointed schools chief has a political constituency, as well: five board members, three of whom he/she must please and pamper in order to stay in office. That leads to intertwined and incestuous micro-politics.

When three board members want to keep or fire the superintendent, it may not always be about performance. Appointed superintendents tell researchers they are often under intense pressure from school board members in making key hiring decisions. After all, when three board members decide if you keep your job and how much you get paid, you know who you must satisfy and it’s not the voters.

And it isn’t just the Mary Beth Jacksons who get fired.

Recently, an appointed Florida superintendent, who attracted $100 million in grants for her schools and a wall full of honors for her performance, was terminated because of a board members’ feud. She got a $1 million severance package. Another Florida county had two former superintendents and one current superintendent on the payroll at the same time. All appointees. That doesn’t always happen. But, according to the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, it happens. And taxpayers get stuck.

Appointed superintendents aren’t political eunuchs and appointing instead of electing doesn’t bleach the politics out of education.

Then there’s the question that should matter most – whether appointment or election is a factor in how well or poorly students do. A University of Alabama study concluded, “There is no difference in student performance when the superintendent is appointed rather than elected.”

Vanderbilt University found, “It is virtually impossible to isolate the effect of superintendent selection on student achievement.”

Dr. William Sanders, who researched appointed vs. elected, concludes, “It matters less how superintendents are selected, but more what they do once they are in the position.”

In Florida, eight of the top 12 performing school districts elect their superintendents.

The best predictor of performance is facing the voters, presenting your proposals, answering their questions, standing at the 5,000th door you’ve knocked on and listening to that taxpayer’s concerns, that parent’s suggestions.

The best deciders are the people of Okaloosa County. Voters do make mistakes. But one Mary Beth Jackson doesn’t justify giving up for all time our right to vote. Fortunately, in our case, a new

Governor, Ron DeSantis, did what the former governor should have done and rid us of our mistake without waiting for the next election.

Now we have a new superintendent and an election next year. I trust the voters.

Don Gaetz was elected twice to the Okaloosa School Board and twice as Superintendent of Schools. During his superintendency Okaloosa Schools were the highest performing in the state. He is former President of the Florida Senate.