Vote for better educationA direct election for the superintendent of education in South Chungcheong Province was held yesterday. It was the sixth direct election to be held after the direct election system was introduced in late 2006. The turnout rate, however, was merely around 10 percent. That is the result of a lack of interest in the election among parents and other citizens. The election for the superintendent of education in Busan was held early last year, the first of its kind, but the turnout rate was just 15.3 percent. If this persists, the purpose of direct elections for education superintendents can’t be achieved.
The post of education superintendent is key. The success or failure of education in primary, middle and high schools depends on education superintendents. They decide important educational affairs, such as opening new special high schools, changing school districts, planning different classes according to student ability, extracurricular matters and personnel affairs. Superintendents have enormous power over budgets as well. The superintendent of education in Seoul controls a budget of 6.167 trillion won ($5.9 billion), which is close to the budget for the entire city of Busan. Because of the April 15 measure to give schools autonomy, education superintendents have more important roles than ever. That is why a superintendent of education is called a petit president for education.
The purpose of direct elections for education superintendents is so that residents can decide whom to hire. In the past, superintendents were chosen by school executives in indirect elections. There was a limit to attracting parental interest in education and there were negative effects in elections, such as disputes among factions or corruption in campaigns. Some point out that direct elections cost too much money. A direct election costs from 10 billion won to 40 billion won, according to the size of a city or a province. Most of all, the terms for the new superintendents now are two years or less. From July 2010, new superintendents will be elected again and they will have four-year terms, the same as the heads of districts. Thus, it is understandable that some maintain it is a waste of taxpayer money to have direct elections.
Whatever the cost, elections for superintendents are used to enhance autonomy in education and induce residents’ participation in education. Next month, there will be elections for superintendents in North Jeolla Province on July 23 and in Seoul on July 30. The people must not overlook the importance of these elections. Normalizing public education begins with hiring the right people as education heads in each district.