This year, Lee County voters will get to decide whether to elect a superintendent of schools or leave the position appointed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a local bill (HB 497) that will put the question on the November ballot. That could change how the local school leaders have been selected since 1974.
Rep. Jenna Persons–Mulicka, a Fort Myers Republican, pushed the bill through the Legislative Session and will campaign this fall in favor of the referendum.
“Unlike some School Board members, I trust the voters in Lee County to be able to choose the most qualified candidate,” she said. “An elected superintendent will be a better superintendent because of the journey that the person has to go through, the journey to get elected. That person will have to be out in the community, hearing concerns, and continue to listen even after being elected.”
The School Board opposed the measure, which would shift the hiring decision away from the elected board. The letter, signed by School Board Chair Debbie Jordan, suggests elections will distract from the job and make a superintendent less focused on school operations.
“Elected superintendents must divert time that should be focused on the students in order to win a political campaign,” the letter states.
It also noted that only Florida and Alabama allow for the election of superintendents.
But the Lee County Legislative Delegation ahead of Session unanimously approved the measure, kicking off the local bill process. While some Democrats voted against the measure in Tallahassee, the bill to put the question on the ballot passed with bipartisan support.
Persons-Mulicka notes that most superintendents in Florida school districts remain elected, including those in many of the state’s top-performing districts. Mostly, she’s not been happy with the results of board hires.
“I don’t think the system we have has been working,” she said. “We’ve had six appointed superintendents in 12 years, four of those who served less than two-year terms.”
Persons-Mulicka’s father, Armor Persons, is running for School Board now, challenging incumbent Gwynetta Gittens.
If voters approve the shift to elected superintendent, a partisan election for the constitutional office will occur two years later.