LINCOLN, Nebraska -- School superintendents would no longer be required to have two years of classroom experience if the Education Committee passes a bill it heard Tuesday.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha presented this bill (LB539) that would allow potential superintendent candidates to be hired without any teaching experience. Nobody else testified in favor of the bill, and three testified against it.
"A superintendent is not a manager. A superintendent is not a teacher. A superintendent is not a mentor," Chambers said. "A superintendent is the one who's going to run this operation."
Chambers added that if teaching made a difference, then two years was not enough. He said it comes down to qualifications.
Some people who have life experiences that qualify them to be a superintendent would not have the teaching experiences because they decided later to become involved in education, Chambers said.
The type of teaching experience is also not specified by the required two years, he said. He added that the experiences of a special education teacher would differ from the experiences of a math teacher.
"I don't see any connection between two years of teaching and the ability to operate effectively a school district," Chambers said.
He also said that he believed eliminating this requirement would expand the number of candidates for school superintendent positions in Nebraska.
John Bonaiuto, a lobbyist representing the Nebraska Association of School Boards and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, opposed the bill, saying he had not heard of a shortage of candidates.
Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha expressed concern that some would think having people in the superintendent position without any teaching experience would cause schools to be run more like a business.
Chambers disagreed, saying this was not his intent.
"When it comes to the school system," Chambers said, "what has to be done first of all, I think, is create a structure within which the educating will occur."
That would constitute a system with a chain of command to keep everything going in the same direction while being surrounded by people who share the same vision, Chambers said.
Jay Sears, who represents the Nebraska State Education Association, said the NSEA strongly opposed the bill.
He said that the process to becoming a school administrator is based on having a strong knowledge in education, and this bill would weaken those high expectations.
He added that business-oriented people would be missing that education context.
"What would the principal be like if they didn't have any experience teaching in the classroom?" Sears said. "What about the superintendents, especially in our smaller schools, who are also responsible for evaluating the principals who evaluate the teachers?"
Superintendents act as more than managers of people but also as the professional education leaders in school buildings and districts, he said.
Brian Halstead with the Nebraska Department of Education and the State Board of Education said that reconsidering the teaching experience required for superintendents is a necessary discussion but he opposed eliminating it altogether.
Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha said that based on his experience in education, he could make an argument for five or more years of experience in the classroom because new teachers grow so much in their first few years.
Drawing on his own and his children's educational experiences, Chambers said he did not believe in how the public school system was being run, but he said he knows that the bill will not advance out of committee.
"I have no expectation that anything other than a swift death will be handed out to this bill," Chambers said. "I've got four years to get this done, and if I don't get it done in four, I can take another shot at four years."