State Board of Education member Brad Bryant stepped up as the interim state school superintendent Wednesday, but he has a long race before he secures the position permanently in November.
Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the news Wednesday afternoon, and Bryant will start July 1 as Kathy Cox leaves to lead a new education nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.
To stay in his spot, Bryant, a Republican, must collect more than 44,000 signatures by July 13 to get on the November ballot.
Because Cox resigned after the state qualifying deadline, Bryant can’t run as a Republican and must apply as an independent — a party position that many school officials have anticipated.
“When you’re in the political arena, you have to play by the current rules and run in a party,” Cox told The Times on The Local Hour show Wednesday morning for WDUN AM-550. “Testing the waters of running as an independent hasn’t happened before, and Brad is the first case, so we’ll see how it shakes out.”
Certain offices — school board, sheriff and city council — shouldn’t have party lines, but the system is entrenched in Georgia, said Ross Alexander, political science professor at North Georgia College & State University.
“Before government became more professionalized in the 20th century, just about every official ran a partisan race, but with some of those, does that seem appropriate now?” he said. “That is a vestige of the old political party control system developed in the 19th century. What difference should it make which party oversees the state educational apparatus?”
Many states have moved from elected offices to appointments in these situations, he said, but Bryant’s independent status probably won’t bring on permanent change.
“Those types of changes take constitutional amendments. It’s a difficult process,” Alexander said. “It’s a part of the system here, and Georgia is reactive instead of proactive.”
Cox announced May 17, two weeks after candidates qualifying ended, that she would take a new job and sent a formal notice of withdrawal on May 26 to the Secretary of State office. She will still be listed on the ballot as a superintendent candidate in the July 20 Republican primary against John Barge of Rome and Richard Woods of Tifton.
“Her name is still there because we already printed our ballots and started testing our machines,” said Charlotte Sosebee, interim Hall County elections director. “But by law we have to post her withdrawal at the voting precincts and our early voting site for voters who may be confused.”
The sign indicates that all votes for Cox will not be counted, Sosebee said.
Bryant, who joined the state Board of Education in 2003 after 12 years on the DeKalb County school board, will also face a Democratic nominee. Beth Farokhi, Joe Martin and Brian Westlake are seeking the nomination in the primary.
Bryant has a lot of work to do to gain thousands of signatures, and Cox plans to help him.
“Education doesn’t make itself readily available for the Republican camp or Democrat camp. The issues cross partisan lines,” she said. “We should put the students and children first. Parties can tell someone in general how you feel about issues, but a lot of times people are more than party labels.”
The next few months in office will probably give him the incumbent advantage, Alexander said.
“People don’t have any idea what this office really does,” he said. “If this was the governor or lieutenant governor position, people might understand what this person would do, but they’ll probably think the incumbent is doing a good job and vote. This is one office where the incumbent status is definitely beneficial.”
Bryant also served as president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, the Georgia School Boards Association and the National School Boards Association Southern Region.
Cox doesn’t think he’ll have any problem jumping into the new position.
“I couldn’t be more pleased. He’s intelligent, committed and passionate about making sure all Georgia students have a world-class education,” she said Wednesday morning. “He asks the right questions, has a national and international perspective. He’ll come in and not miss a beat.”
Cox said she’ll most regret not “finishing out” the class of 2012, which has seen the biggest changes in math curriculum, demands on graduation rates and the rollout of the Georgia Performance Standards.
“We have a lot of work to do with the graduation rate across the state, and the budget has made it almost impossible to keep graduation coaches, so I’m worried about that,” she said. “This next superintendent is going to spend a lot of time focused on what kinds of things we have to do to help schools systems manage with less resources and still educate kids.”