Adam Madison, The Triplicate

If you find the race for superintendent of the Del Norte County Office of Education confusing, you're not alone.

Jan Moorehouse, who is the appointed superintendent of the Del Norte County Unified School District, also holds the elected post of county superintendent. She's being challenged for it in the June 8 primary by Dave Zuber, a retiring school principal who has been overseeing some of the alternative education programs run through the county office.

Why are there two school superintendent positions in Del Norte County?

In a sense, there used to be more. In the old days practically every school constituted its own district, and thus its principal was in essence the superintendent as well. Even today, most California counties have multiple school districts. Del Norte is one of the exceptions, having merged into a single district in 1964.

There are offices of education in every county. They were created to oversee curriculum in the diverse districts and make sure schools were in good repair. Over time they've taken on different roles, such as providing services and support to districts, making sure schools were in good financial shape and running alternative education programs.

Del Norte County's Office of Education includes the juvenile hall Elk Creek School, McCarthy Alternative Education Center for students on probation, two Community Day Schools for students who have been expelled, Avalon/Paragon School, Castle Rock Charter School and the two independent charter schools.

It is overseen by the same School Board that serves the unified school district, and both entities currently have the same superintendent. That is what would change if Zuber wins the election.

The challenger argues that a separate superintendent for the Office of Education could ensure proper services and resources are provided to the alternative education programs. He also notes that under state law this superintendent - not the head of the unified district - has the responsibility to oversee the district's budget. Since Moorehouse currently fills both superintendent positions, Zuber points out, she is in essence responsible for both proposing a budget and independently verifying that it is fiscally sound.

But Moorehouse points out that the latter "watchdog" role in Del Norte is currently served by a state accounting and information services administrator who annually looks at the district's three-year budget projections and determines if they are realistic. That service is provided at no cost to the district.

Overall, she estimates that 10-15 percent of her time is spent on Office of Education matters as opposed to unified district affairs. Her salary, however, comes almost entirely from being the district superintendent - the Office of Education post pays only $1,000 a year.

Zuber says the money issue would need to be negotiated if he wins the election. He'd certainly merit more than $1,000 a year, but Moorehouse is working on a contract that runs through 2013, so the money isn't likely to come out of her salary.

Salary issues aren't the only concerns if voters decide Del Norte County needs two school superintendents. School Board meetings devoted to both the business of the unified district and the Office of Education could turn into rather complicated affairs. Employees who work for both entities would have two bosses. Ultimately Del Norters could end up spending more to fund positions solely for the Office of Education, although Zuber said that won't happen.

Zuber is an experienced administrator who is familiar with the alternative education programs offered here. Ultimately, however, any benefits from having a second superintendent are outweighed by the complications it would bring to a public education system already consumed by the task of dealing with cuts in state funding. A more elaborate bureaucracy for Del Norte County schools just doesn't seem appealing.

The Triplicate endorses Jan Moorehouse's bid for re-election as superintendent of the Del Norte County Office of Education.