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Education

DPI Head Challenges Plan to Make his Position an Appointed One

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Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers opposes a proposal to change how the state selects its head of the Department of Public Instruction. He made his case Thursday in his annual State of Education address.

The address is a time for the superintendent to point out the year's highlights and challenges in public education. But the battle over Evers' job stole the show.

He insisted the position should remain an elected one.

"Taking that vote away from parents and other folks at the local level is a sad attack at the heart of our democracy and our state's history," Evers said.

The proposed change would give the governor the power to choose who heads the Department of Public Instruction, with confirmation from the state Senate. The change would require Wisconsin to amend its constitution.

"Founders of our state believed that the duties and direct election of the state superintendent of public instruction to be so important they put it in the constitution of this state," Evers said.

The legislator proposing the change is West Allis state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo.

"The Department of Public Instruction shouldn't be treated any differently than the Department of Health services, Department of Corrections or the Department of Transportation. I mean, these are all important services provided by the state," Sanfelippo said.

Sanfelippo says the change would allow the state to select the best candidate based upon qualifications, not on which special interest groups spend a lot of money in elections.

"By making this a regular cabinet position just like all the other departments, we're going to add some accountability there, and then if we don't like the results we're getting with our schools, we're able to make some changes a little easier," Sanfelippo said.

In order to change how Wisconsin selects its superintendent, the Legislature would have to pass the measure in two consecutive sessions. Voters also would have to approve the proposal, through a referendum.