House crushes bill to require elected state superintendent

Without debate, the state House rejected a proposal Wednesday to require the election of the state superintendent of education.

The vote was 40 in favor and 56 opposed.

State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, and sponsor of the measure, was the lone speaker on the issue.

Harrison, a former Assumption Parish School Board member, told the House that parents deserve a voice in picking a superintendent, especially amid sweeping changes in public schools in the past two years.

“They are asking the right questions, they are getting involved,” he said of parents.

No other House member spoke for or against the legislation, which is House Bill 125.

The proposal is a constitutional amendment and requires 70 votes for approval, 26 in the state Senate and a majority of voters statewide.

It would not require the governor’s signature.

Harrison has a second plan, House Bill 127, that would require election of the state superintendent through state law.

It requires 53 votes, which means he would still be 13 less than the minimum needed based on Wednesday’s tally.

If it wins legislative approval it also would require the governor’s signature. The bill was initially set for House debate Wednesday.

Harrision said he plans to seek a vote Monday.

He blamed the lopsided vote on intense lobbying against the measure by the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal, who opposes the change.

Under current rules, the superintendent is picked by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policies for 686,000 students statewide.

BESE’s selection usually includes heavy input from the governor.

The current superintendent, John White, was selected after months of support from Jindal.

He is paid $275,000 per year.

Harrison told the House that when White’s predecessor, former Superintendent Paul Pastorek, was picked he was paid $130,000 per year higher than the next highest paid superintendent in the nation.

The superintendent recommends and carries out policies approved by BESE.

A bill similar to Harrison’s was rejected in a Senate committee last year.