MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s constitution should be amended to create a state school board that would oversee public education, a candidate running for state superintendent proposed Thursday.
The purpose is to hold the state superintendent accountable, said John Humphries, a consultant to the Dodgeville school district and one of three candidates on the Feb. 21 primary ballot.
Humphries is challenging incumbent state Superintendent Tony Evers and retired Beloit superintendent Lowell Holtz. A fourth candidate, Racine high school math teacher Rick Melcher, said he is running as a write-in candidate.
Evers and Holtz blasted the idea.
“We do not need more bureaucracy or more centralized control,” said Evers’ campaign manager Amanda Brink.
Holtz echoed that, calling the proposal “another layer of bureaucracy.”
“Expanding government feels good to some, but the reality is it would give more power to bureaucrats in Madison and not to the school districts and parents where it belongs,” Holtz said.
Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Mexico are the only states without a statewide board of education, and Wisconsin is the only state with an elected superintendent who does not have an oversight board.
The Legislature would have to pass the constitutional amendment over two consecutive sessions, and voters would have to approve, for the Education Accountability Board to be created. Humphries said if elected he would call on the Legislature to propose the amendment.
The co-chair of Humphries’ campaign, Republican state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, is chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. Thiesfeldt said he was “certainly open” to the idea of such a constitutional amendment, would not introduce it but would hold a hearing if someone else proposed it.
Thiesfeldt said he liked the idea because the board could hold the state superintendent accountable and be responsive to voters. But he said a downside would be that instead of having one person in charge of education, power would be diffused through all the board members.
The chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Luther Olsen, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Humphries argued that the board was needed to hold the superintendent accountable. The superintendent currently oversees the Department of Public Instruction and, like the governor and other constitutional officers, is accountable to no one other than voters.
“It’s time for a new direction,” said Humphries, who envisions a board voting on all administrative rules, designing and issue the state report card and auditing DPI. The board members would be appointed by state lawmakers from both parties, with the board president appointed by the governor.