Finalists stress importance of fiscal advocacy for Superintendent of the Year

WASHINGTON D.C. — Leaders of school districts play a crucial role as advocates in the decision-making process for public school funding and other education programs at the local, state, and federal levels, according to the four finalists for National Superintendent of the Year. The finalists shared their insights during a panel discussion hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, at The National Press Club.

The nominees discussed various fiscal issues, including maximizing federal pandemic relief funds, exploring innovative revenue sources, and presenting a united front in legislative advocacy.

Frederick Williams, superintendent of the Dublin City Schools in Dublin, Georgia, which serves 2,362 students, emphasized the importance of ensuring that funds allocated for public education are directed to public schools.

“The passage of vouchers anywhere threatens public education everywhere,” Williams stated.

Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, superintendent of the Contoocook Valley School District in Peterborough, New Hampshire, which has an enrollment of 2,000 students, highlighted the need for superintendents, principals, and central office staff to actively participate in the legislative process.

“We must advocate from a set of core values and collaborate with AASA and each other to make a meaningful and powerful impact,” said Rizzo Saunders. Her school district, together with other plaintiffs, sued the state of New Hampshire in 2019 for adequate school funding. More information about the case can be found here.

The finalists also discussed their experiences in managing federal funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) allocations to address pandemic-related challenges.

Martha Salazar-Zamora, superintendent of the Tomball Independent School District in Texas, which serves nearly 14,000 students, emphasized the district’s commitment to providing every student with a sense of belonging, a passion to pursue, and a love for learning while effectively utilizing the ESSER allocation.

Salazar-Zamora explained that the district explored the addition of personnel to address learning loss, even if those positions may not be filled in the long term.

Becoming what she refers to as an “enterprise superintendent,” Salazar-Zamora highlighted the district’s efforts in seeking sustainable revenue sources that benefit students and contribute to the district’s economic health. For instance, the district acquired a 70-acre property, part of which is designated for career and technical education programs, and the remaining portion is leased to generate income.

Gothard said districts need to find creative ways to generate revenue as students depend on those resources. He expressed the importance of adapting the education system to meet individual student needs, rather than trying to fit students into a predetermined mold.