Lee schools superintendent race: Who's running and who has decided against it

The Lee County school board has appointed the superintendent of schools for around five decades, but a new county ruling has changed the position to an elected one.

So far, two people are running for the position.

Following the change, current Lee County Schools Superintendent Christopher Bernier announced he would not run for the position in the county election.

"While I support the community's decision based upon the referendum vote in November of 2022, becoming an elected superintendent was never my aspiration," Bernier said in a video announcement.

Bernier will continue to serve as superintendent until his term ends next year.

"I want to underscore that my decision is founded on a profound respect for our school board, and the dedicated students, families, teachers and staff who collectively contribute every day to our thriving educational community," Bernier said in a video statement.

Elected vs. appointed

In the 1970s, Lee County moved away from an elected superintendent position in favor of an appointed one. The school board had the responsibility of vetting and appointing the position since, which board member for District 3 Chris Patricca said is the best way given the size of the district.

Patricca said usually smaller school districts have an elected superintendent, but once a district grows to around 33,000 to 35,000 students it moves to an appointed position. The School District of Lee County is the 32nd largest in the nation with 90,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

"You typically see better education outcomes once that move has taken place," Patricca said.

Patricca said having an election for superintendent allows politics to work its way into education ― where she says it doesn't belong.

"The amount of politics in education today is really counterproductive," Patricca said. "And the people that run for this position are partisan This is a partisan election where you're going to have candidates who are beholden to parties and beholden to political groups. And the last thing we need is more politics in education."

Patricca said having to campaign for superintendent will be a full time job for the candidates and is ultimately "a popularity contest." She urges county residents to pay attention to the candidates before voting next year.

"Ask questions about what their intentions are for the system and how that will impact your own kids," Patricca said. "If you don't have kids in the system, think about what you would have wanted for your own kids. Think about what you would want for your grandchildren. And just take it very seriously."

Who's running?

So far, two Republican candidates are running for superintendent: Denise Carlin and Morgan Wright. No Democrats have filed to run yet.

Wright, an Afghanistan veteran, said he wants to address busing, cell phone addiction, teacher pay, and safety in schools.

"This position should be in support of our children and the great educators who teach, nurture and grow our future generations," Wright wrote in his declaration. "I've demonstrated unwavering commitment to not only our own students of Lee County, but nationally as a published writer and public speaker on educational support for growing minds."

Carlin is a retired Lee County educator with years of school administration experience.

The News-Press reached out to Carlin for comment, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Lee schools superintendent race: Who's running and who's not