Grand juries could pick school boards under new proposal

A proposal to amend the Georgia constitution so communities can return to an older way of picking school leaders took a step through the General Assembly Monday.

Senate Resolution 192 would let voters in school districts across Georgia hold a referendum to decide whether they want their school district leader to be a popularly elected politician rather than a professional hire, as is the practice now.

Since the constitution was changed in 1992, school board members have been elected and the boards have hired superintendents. SR 192 would change that so superintendents are elected while school boards would be appointed by grand juries, as was the practice a quarter century ago.

The author, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, said he is reacting to a growing turnover rate, with superintendents holding office less than three years under the current system versus eight years under the old one. He said appointed superintendents also can cost more, citing one school board that hired a superintendent for a quarter million dollar salary then decided to cancel the contract after a year, paying the superintendent a half million dollars to leave.

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“Ten teachers could have been hired with that money,” Wilkinson said. He said it could make sense in some communities to have the grand jury pick school board members. The panel of randomly-selected citizens is entrusted with deciding whether to bring indictments in criminal investigations and had a process for taking applications and doing interviews before the practice was abolished.

“It’s not like they just picked random people out of the phone book,” Wilkinson said.

The resolution was approved 5-2 in a subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Education Committee Monday. It must now get through the full education committee and then get two-thirds support in a floor vote in the full House.

It passed the Senate 40-12 on March 3. A two-thirds majority followed by a voter referendum is required for constitutional amendments.

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