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Politics Tainting School Superintendent Election Races

Posted March. 13, 2010 09:50,   


Political forces are seeking to influence the elections of school superintendents, which will be held simultaneously with the June 2 local elections.

This runs counter to the superintendent elections’ purpose of achieving educational autonomy because it undermines political neutrality in the sector.

The law on educational autonomy prohibits political parties from fielding candidates and representatives, high-ranking officials, and paid staff of parties from supporting or opposing candidates. Candidates cannot say they are backed by parties, either.

This law is not followed, however. With corruption in education coming to the surface and major issues such as cutting private education costs and free school lunches drawing attention from the electorate, a heated clash between the ruling and opposition parties is expected.

In particular, each party is closely monitoring the superintendent elections since they will affect the local elections.

Each party has reportedly begun controlling candidates to prevent voters from getting divided. This is because prospective candidates are presenting themselves as having the support of a party by circumventing the law after party nominations of superintendent candidates were banned.

For instance, 10 people supportive of the ruling Grand National Party have registered as candidates for Seoul school superintendent. The ruling party fears that multiple candidates will fiercely compete against each another, lowering the chance of a candidate loyal to the party of winning the election.

In the superintendant race in Gyeonggi Province last year, a candidate backing the ruling party lost to liberal candidate Kim Sang-gon largely because of the party’s failure to field a single candidate. The ruling camp fears history could repeat itself this year.

By contrast, the liberal camp has stepped up efforts to nominate unified candidates.

In a related move, leading members of the ruling party are reportedly working to narrow the list of candidates for superintendent elections in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi.

A party official said yesterday that Kim Yeong-suk, former principal of Duksung Girls’ Middle School, is the most likely candidate for Seoul. Kim is known for pursuing a curriculum in which students do not need private tutoring.

The ruling party seeks to present Kim as Korea’s Michelle Lee, the Korean-American superintendent of Washington, D.C., who has taken an aggressive stance on reforming public education.

For Gyeonggi, former Senior Presidential Secretary for Education, Science and Cultural Affairs Chung Jin-gon and Vice Education Minister Park Jong-ku are being mentioned.

For Incheon, leading ruling party members want former Labor Minister Lee Young-hee to declare his candidacy. Lee, however, told The Dong-A Ilbo over the phone that he has no intent to run.

A key official in the ruling camp said, “Many say reform-minded figures should be nominated to win superintendent elections in the Seoul metropolitan area.”

yongari@donga.com kimkihy@donga.com