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Pennsylvania Superintendents No Longer Need Classroom Experience

The Times-Tribune out of Scranton, Pa. highlighted a new state law removing a requirement that school superintendents have a background in school administration. From the article:

A new law drops the requirement that prospective school chiefs have any experience in a classroom. There is no longer a need to be a teacher or principal or to have an education-related degree.

That means area school districts will suddenly find a much larger pool of applicants for the top jobs.

Supporters of the legislation say that the new requirements, including business and finance experience, are what a school chief needs in the time of unprecedented budget cuts.

Others wonder how someone who has never been in a classroom can make decisions on students' educations.

To be a school district chief, the law previously required a person to have a letter of eligibility, issued by the state Department of Education. To receive that letter, the person had to complete a graduate-level program of educational administrative study, which consisted of two full academic years. The candidate also needed to have at least six years of experience in education, including at least three of those years in a supervisory capacity.

But now, someone with a degree in business, finance, management or law, along with four years of related experience, can also be a superintendent. Upon appointment, the person would need to complete a leadership development program.

The story goes on to note that in some small districts with few employees at the central office level, having an experienced school professional at the helm is essential, according to those who do not support the change. However, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said that education experience is not necessary to be a good chief.

The law referred to in the article is House Bill 1307, which was signed in July. In addition to the qualification provisions, the law also places a cap on the amount of severance that Pennsylvania school superintendents can receive. Superintendents can now receive no more than one year's total compensation and benefits as a part of a separation agreement—essentially ending the practice of paying a superintendent for multiple years left remaining on his or her contract.

The new law also requires that superintendent contracts include "objective performance standards" mutually agreed upon by the school board and the superintendent. And, when superintendents are fired, the law says that the board must explain why at its next public meeting after the termination.

That payout-limiting part of the legislation was clearly influenced by the nearly $1 million severance package that was paid to Arlene Ackerman, the former schools superintendent in Philadelphia, who left the district last August. But she was not the only Pennsylvania superintendent who negotiated a large settlement, according to an article I wrote last September: One superintendent in a 3,000-student district left with a severance package worth more than $500,00, including salary and forgiving the mortgage on his house. Another superintendent, bought out a year into his contract, left with more than $200,000.


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