Waiting to hear from the state attorney general

Voters on Tuesday decided to change the way Marion County selects its school superintendent. The elected system is gone; Marion's School Board will now appoint K-12 chiefs.

In the event that this might happen, the board recently asked its attorney, Paul Gibbs, to research the issue and determine how it should proceed. Gibbs did so and concluded that the School Board is now in charge of day-to-day operations of the district.

Gibbs has asked state Attorney General Pam Bondi and her office to weigh in on the key questions before the board moves forward. Bondi's office has not yet responded to a letter Gibbs sent.

In light of all that, here is where the matter stands:

• Are there any state laws that specifically dictate that Heidi Maier, the current superintendent, can be removed from office in light of Tuesday's election result?

A 1967 state attorney general opinion states that “the superintendent serves only until the board has a qualified and duly appointed replacement.”

Gibbs wrote in his letter to Bondi that he believes prior court decisions make it clear that the board can remove Maier when it has an appointed superintendent hired and ready to start.

• Does Maier report to the School Board until a new superintendent is hired?

Gibbs noted in his letter to Bondi that “my interpretation of these statutes is that once the electors officially approve the referendum, the organizational chart would be amended so that the School Board appears at the top, with the superintendent reporting to the board.”

Gibbs further wrote that it is his belief that the School Board is in charge and can appoint a new superintendent at any time. Gibbs also believes that “the School Board is under no obligation to pay the incumbent for the loss of emoluments (loss of salary).”

• Will Maier, who was elected to a four-year term in 2016, be immediately removed from her post now that voters have spoken?

Based on School Board discussions at a recent meeting, it appears that most board members believe that Maier will likely end up finishing her term.

All the members agreed that hiring a superintendent will be a long process.

• Why might it take so long for the board to hire a new superintendent?

The board will have to create a policy and job description and establish specific qualifications for the post. It will then have to determine how the selection process will proceed, hire a search company, formulate a committee to review applications, and narrow the list to finalists to be interviewed.

Once the initial process is in place, hiring superintendents could be done much more quickly. But creating the process will take time.

Board members Kelly King and Nancy Stacy both state they want to take their time in finding a good, qualified candidate. Both say it is likely that Maier would be allowed to finish her term, but can’t speak for the rest of the board.

Chairwoman Beth McCall believes the board could move forward immediately, though she too said it will take time to iron out the details and get an opinion back from the state.

Eric Cummings, who was elected on Tuesday, also seems to favor allowing Maier to continue while the board searches for a new leader.

The Star-Banner did not get a response from Nancy Thrower, who also was elected Tuesday night.