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Published March 23, 2011, 08:50 PM

ND House Reviews Possible Education Shakeup

Abolishing the North Dakota Board of Higher Education and removing the state superintendent of public instruction as an elected official would strip power from voters and make the education system too political, critics of a proposed constitutional amendment said Wednesday.

By: Trevor Born, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Abolishing the North Dakota Board of Higher Education and removing the state superintendent of public instruction as an elected official would strip power from voters and make the education system too political, critics of a proposed constitutional amendment said Wednesday.

The amendment would replace the Board of Higher Education and the superintendent of public instruction with a state Department of Education, which would oversee all state public education administration, from preschool through college.

The governor would choose the new agency's director and an 11-member department advisory board, whose members would be vetted by legislative leaders. The director would serve a three-year term.

"This would bury education in an even greater mega-bureaucracy," said Wayne Sanstead, who was first elected as North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction in 1984.

"Citizens wouldn't have a clear path to voice their opinions. Major educational issues, examples of any kind of opposition or support could well be silenced," Sanstead said.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, is sponsoring the proposal. Carlson said administrative overlap between the K-12 and higher education systems has driven up costs without producing better-educated students.

Integrating the system will improve student education, job training and coordination between local public schools and North Dakota's colleges, Carlson said.

"Each session the education sector continues to seek and receive significant increases in financial support," Carlson told the House Education and Constitutional Revision committees in a joint hearing Wednesday. "But yet student test scores have, at best, been flat. It's been proven nationwide that you can't spend yourself to success with education funding. You need to make some reforms to get results to go up."

If approved by the House and Senate, the proposal would go on the ballot for voter approval in November 2012. Sanstead's current four-year term ends in 2012, and the amendment says that whoever is elected superintendent then will serve for two years. The job would be eliminated on Jan. 1, 2015.

The state Board of Higher Education opposes the move. William Goetz, chancellor of the state university system, said he didn't believe combining the systems would reduce education spending.

"If we're going to move forward, let's not do it on the basis of a resolution that tears apart the education system of North Dakota," Goetz said. "Let's do it with vision, responsibility, and without political vindication or reasons of exorbitant spending as rationale. That's not responsible."

Carlson and other supporters said North Dakota students aren't being trained for jobs the state will need in the future. Increasing collaboration between K-12 and higher education would allow a more coherent curriculum "with a vision for the future," Carlson said.

"This isn't a vendetta against one organization or another," Carlson said. "This is about saying, 'Is what we've done for the past many years the right way of delivery? Are we getting the results we've expected to get? Or do we need to look at a different model for education, a more seamless model?'"

Robert Vallie, a student lobbyist for North Dakota State University, said the change would give college students less say in the university system. A student holds one of the eight voting positions on the Board of Higher Education.

The amendment would take out all specific references to North Dakota's colleges.

Sanstead said the original drafters of the North Dakota Constitution made the state school superintendent an elected office for good reason.

"The election of the superintendent should continue to be protected from undue political influence and be directly responsible to the people," Sanstead said. "It shouldn't be subservient either to an educational council or to a governor."

The amendment is HCR3046.

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