Kentucky Senate Bill 7 (SB-7), which will make some important improvements to Kentucky’s troubled School Based Decision Making law, moved out of the Kentucky Senate on Thursday following a 20 – 15 vote.
SB-7 makes some important changes in the division of authority between the locally elected school board and their superintendent and the state’s school councils, often called “Site Based Councils,” which are found in almost all regular Kentucky public schools.
SB-7 is a badly needed piece of legislation. For more on that, just click the “Read more” link
There are many obvious problems with the current school council system, as I outlined in my 2018 report about “School Based Decision Making Policy, A CLOSER LOOK.”
Just a few of these include:
- Local voters are amazed when they discover that the school board members they elect are powerless to influence many major policy decisions in Kentucky’s schools. Essentially, the local citizen gets to pay, but has no say, about the schools in his or her school district.
- Parents correctly complain that they really have no control over the school councils, which by law are always created with teachers, not parents, in majority control.
- Superintendents are completely locked out of control over important issues like selection of most school staff members and critical curriculum choices. The superintendent doesn’t even make the final selection of the principal in the school.
- Continuing confusion over authority results in a constant stream of superintendents, principals and sometimes even school council members getting sanctioned for violation of the often illogical and generally awkward rules that currently control governance in Kentucky’s public school system.
- As pointed out in “School Based Decision Making Policy, A CLOSER LOOK,” serious issues with school cultures that have been protected by the school council system are routinely identified whenever schools fall into the low-performing Comprehensive Supervision and Improvement category in Kentucky’s school accountability system. The problems went on for years without rectification because local school boards and superintendents lacked authority to act.
- Probably due to the lack of any real parent control on school councils, very low parent interest is exemplified by extraordinarily low parent turnout for elections of parent members to the school councils all across the state.
- Finally, Kentucky’s continued problems with very slow improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate that something different, something including a lot more real accountability at the local level, is needed in the state’s school governance system.
Basically, school councils virtually destroy any kind of real accountability to local citizens for their schools. Citizens get to pay, but have no real say.
How bad is the situation now? A set of questions from Senator Chris McDaniel (R) (Kenton County) to Dr. Randy Poe, the superintendent at Boone County Public Schools and a past leader of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, really brings this home.
Just before the committee voted on SB-7, Senator McDaniel asked Superintendent Poe a very pertinent question:
“If you get a problem in one of your schools, and the school board determines you failed to provide appropriate oversight to a principal, could they terminate your employment?”
“Yes, they could.”
Sen. McDaniel then asked:
“How many teachers on the Site Based Council could they terminate?”
Poe answered, “None.”
McDaniel then asked how many parents (apparently referring to those parents on the Site Based Council) could the board terminate. Again, the answer was “None.”
Obviously, the only authority the local school board has is to remove the superintendent. But, neither the superintendent or the board really has any control over the school council. Accountability – NOT!
SB-7, which now moves to the Kentucky House, can help to improve this unworkable situation for the management of Kentucky’s public school system, which now has seen even Mississippi moving ahead of Kentucky for white and black student scores in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 4 math and reading results.
A few key features of the bill version that was approved on Thursday include:
- There will now be a minimum of three parents and three teachers on the school council (more could serve, but the ratio must remain even). This still might not tilt the control to parents as the principal, who still chairs the council, can cast a tie-breaking vote, but it certainly improves the situation.
- Now, school council policy must be consistent with district board policy and district goals.
- The bill explicitly authorizes locally elected school board members to attend council meetings without penalty just for doing so.
- Now, the superintendent, not the school council, is the final selecting authority for the school principals. The superintendent must consult with the school council first before making this decision. A somewhat similar rule applies to the special case in Jefferson County, with the superintendent now allowed to override a principal selection by a school council.
However, the school councils will still retain a lot of power. They remain in charge of developing policy for these 11 areas:
- Determination of curriculum, including needs assessment, curriculum development and responsibilities under KRS 158.6453(19);
- Assignment of all instructional and noninstructional staff time;
- Assignment of students to classes and programs within the school;
- Determination of the schedule of the school day and week, subject to the beginning and ending times of the school day and school calendar year as established by the local board;
- Determination of use of school space during the school day related to improving classroom teaching and learning;
- Planning and resolution of issues regarding instructional practices;
- Selection and implementation of discipline and classroom management techniques as a part of a comprehensive school safety plan, including responsibilities of the student, parent, teacher, counselor, and principal;
- Selection of extracurricular programs and determination of policies relating to student participation based on academic qualifications and attendance requirements, program evaluation, and supervision;
- Adoption of an emergency plan as required in KRS 158.162;
- Procedures, consistent with local school board policy, for determining alignment with state standards, technology utilization, and program appraisal; and
- Procedures to assist the council with consultation in the selection of personnel by the principal, including but not limited to meetings, timelines, interviews, review of written applications, and review of references.
By the way, if a school gets identified as a Comprehensive Support and Improvement School (often called a CSI school, which is a bottom 5% performance school), school council authority will still be taken over by the superintendent. But, in all other cases the councils will still rule in the 11 areas listed above.
And, that’s still a lot of power and responsibility for the school councils. Maybe with the additional parent vote added to the councils, this will increase what currently is rather scant parent interest.
So, SB-7 now is headed to the Kentucky House. Let’s hope these sensible changes will meet approval in that chamber, as well. Because, the bottom line here is with even Mississippi starting to move ahead of Kentucky, our school system clearly needs to do something different.