Arizona voters elect county school superintendents. But how many understand what they’re voting for? County school superintendents have been around since Arizona’s statehood – they’re baked into Article 11 of the state’s constitution, and they have both mandated and optional duties.
County school superintendents are one of the four levels of educational authority in Arizona. While the state board of education creates policies that govern school operations at a high level, the state superintendent executes those policies. County school superintendents work most closely with the school district governing boards in their region to provide needed services.
Among the county superintendent’s required duties are:
- Their role in elections. Their office collaborates with the county recorder and elections office to execute any district-related elections, including those for school district governing board members, bonds and overrides, consolidation or unification and more.
- Acting as a bank for each school district. The district’s money is held by the superintendent’s office in their name, but the budgeting and spending of those dollars is decided by each district’s governing board. It’s also the superintendent’s responsibility to oversee spending to ensure it happens according to law.
- Handling affidavits of intent for caregivers who will be homeschooling their kids.
- In limited circumstances, directly providing education to students, in the case of those who are incarcerated. They’re responsible to educate youth in juvenile detention and jail. They hire teachers, set curriculum and work to keep the students on track as much as possible.
What county school superintendents are required to do are a relatively small part of what they actually do. Their discretionary responsibilities are far more diverse and vary widely depending on county needs and resources:
- Each county superintendent works closely with the districts in their area to understand their challenges and identify ways they can assist.
- In many counties, they act as education service agencies, offering everything from teacher professional development to administrative services such as finding, training and paying substitute teachers. Some county superintendents, especially those in rural areas, employ nurses / therapists / psychologists who can rotate between schools. This can greatly help schools continue to provide robust services in a cost-effective way.
- To help keep the public informed, many counties also offer newsletters and field questions from county residents. And some help to facilitate partnerships between schools and other groups/businesses in their area as another way of supporting schools.
Outside of their responsibilities to districts, county superintendents also serve on a number of state boards. There is one seat for a county superintendent on the state board of education, the Arizona Interscholastic Association and most other education-related task forces.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about county superintendents is their relationship with school district superintendents. County superintendents have no power over districts. How schools are run depends entirely on district governing boards, who hire and direct the district superintendent.
County school superintendents are elected every four years, during the same election cycle as the president. Though their races are partisan, their jobs are not. They’re focused on how best to help schools and students. To be eligible, one must have a valid teaching certificate and be a registered voter in that county. Beyond that, voters deciding between candidates might consider how much teaching and leadership experience a candidate has, whether they have an understanding of school finances, who will best be able to support teacher, students and leaders.
To find out who is on your ballot this year, visit: ExpectMoreArizona.org/VOTE.