The Cullman County schools superintendent has been an elected position for more than 50 years, and if a proposal to change it to appointed doesn’t gain steam in the state legislature soon, it could stay that way for a few more.
The school board passed a resolution urging the legislature to repeal the local act providing for a superintendent’s election and enact a new system giving the school board authority to select and hire a superintendent earlier this year, which local delegates are working to introduce.
But with a House seat currently open in Cullman County, local Rep. Ed Henry, R-Cullman/Morgan, has said he will not sponsor the legislation until the seat is filled and all area citizens are represented. Henry represents a small portion of north central Cullman County.
“You have a school board asking the state legislature, through the local delegation, to make a decision that removes the opportunity for the public to vote on what is currently an elected position, when almost half the county doesn’t have a representative,” Henry said. “While I always have reservations about taking away the right of a population to vote on something, I certainly have a problem when a large portion of the county is without representation.”
The open House seat, vacated by Jeremy Oden for a government appointment, is currently contested by three candidates. A run-off between GOP candidates Danny Alldredge and Randall Shedd is set for Tuesday. The winner will face Democratic contender Kelly Evans in a general election in May.
School board members worry if the bill isn’t introduced soon, it would be unlikely to make it through the current legislative session, which ends within days of the general election. The next superintendent election would be ramping up before it could be reintroduced in the following session, meaning it could be years before the board could broach the topic again.
“If it doesn’t make it through, then I’m sorry, it’s just too bad,” Henry said. “You don’t do the wrong thing for convenience.”
Cullman County’s other two current delegates, Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, and Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, had already pledged to introduce the measure. But without Henry’s support, Buttram said it would be very hard to get the bill passed within the current session. Bussman did not return a message left seeking comment by deadline of this article.
School board member Randy Hasenbein, a longtime advocate of the appointed model, said he would be disappointed to see the bill stall, but believes the measure is still in the best interest of the system and will eventually pass.
“I understand the reasoning and I have no problem if they want to wait until the fine people of District 11 are represented, because that’s just part of the process,” Hasenbein said. “I absolutely think we need to be as transparent and open as possible, unlike what has happened on some occasions recently in our state government ... But we’ll do whatever we need to do to get this passed, because I still believe it’s the right thing to do.”
If the bill does manage to get approved by the legislature, the new system would take effect at the end of current superintendent Billy Coleman’s term. Officials say they would hold an open search, likely contracting with the Alabama Association of School Boards for assistance. Public interviews would then be held with finalists.
The board asked the legislature to approve the measure without a public vote, citing time constraints.
Alabama is one of only three states that still have elected superintendents, and Cullman County is among 149 systems out of 15,000 nationwide that still holds an election to determine its chief officer.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct and clarify a quote.
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.