Will we ever learn?
Cho Hee-yeon, education superintendent for Seoul, has been fined 5 million won ($4,640) for spreading false rumors about a rival candidate during the election campaign last year.
Cho can make his case in two more trials, but the Supreme Court usually upholds unanimous rulings by lower-court juries. Cho will likely lose in the trials unless he can deliver clear evidence disproving the charges against him. Under the local education law, a candidate who intentionally spreads false information about a rival can be fined 5 million to 30 million won or sent to prison for up to seven years.
An education superintendent fined 1 million won or more or sentenced to a prison term loses his or her job. If Cho is forced out, he would be the third education chief in charge of the densely populated capital to be kicked out before completing his term in office since 2008.
Key changes in the education policy and agenda in Seoul could be affected by the ruling. Cho, a liberal, has been pushing to expand vocational schools and reduce elite institutions. He also has pledged to change the policy that will allow students to select the school of their choice starting in 2017.
Disruptions in education policy once again would cause confusion in classrooms and affect students. The Seoul High Court and Supreme Court must settle Cho’s case as soon as possible so as not to disrupt education policy in Seoul.
The series of problems with education chiefs demands a reconsideration of the system which elects them. The post is heavily competitive, drawing a large number of candidates. Campaigns naturally require substantial costs.
In the end, if Cho must forfeit his position, he would have to return state campaign subsidy of 3.3 billion won. Even being elected at such a dear cost, education chiefs often come into conflict with local and central governments over policy.
The dispute over the free school meal program caused a head-on clash between the governor and education chief in South Gyeongsang. There is a need for the chief superintendent to seek election as a running mate for the mayor or governor of the same jurisdiction so education policy in the region is not affected by confrontations among local administrators.
Some also suggest that education chiefs be elected indirectly by cities or provincial councils to lessen the cost and resources demanded by direct elections.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 25, Page 30